Dementia is the 21st century’s biggest killer, with someone developing it every three minutes, yet a few years ago we didn’t talk about the condition with the frankness and openness that we do today. We’ve come a long way but too many are still facing dementia alone without adequate support. We urgently need to find a cure, improve care and offer help and understanding for people affected.
Many of us still have questions and I’d like to take the opportunity to answer some of the most common ones people ask us at Alzheimer’s Society.
What is dementia? Is it the same as Alzheimer’s?
Dementia and Alzheimer’s are not the same thing but they are closely linked. Dementia is a condition which describes a set of symptoms which might include memory loss, mood changes or problems with communication and reasoning. The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s Disease, which is a disease of the brain. However, there are dozens of other types of dementia such as Vascular Dementia or Dementia with Lewy Bodies. Alzheimer’s Society is committed to ensuring the rights of people affected by dementia are recognised and until the day we find a cure, we will be here to support anyone affected by any type of dementia.
Is dementia an increasing problem?
Dementia devastates lives; it slowly strips people of their memories, relationships and identities. Whilst dementia doesn’t just affect older people, your risk of developing the condition does increase with age. Most research predicts that with people living longer we will see a steady increase in the number of people with the condition over the next few years. In the UK, there are 850,000 people with dementia today and we expect there to be more than 1.1 million people with the condition by 2025. In Northamptonshire alone there are 8000 people with dementia today.
How can I avoid getting dementia?
Dementia is caused by diseases of the brain and anyone can develop it. Dementia doesn’t care how old you are. It’s caused by diseases of the brain so it’s not an inevitable part of ageing. More than 40,000 people with dementia in the UK are under 65.
However, there are steps we can all take to reduce our risk of developing the condition. Research has concluded that your risk of developing dementia increases significantly if you smoke, are obese, have high blood pressure or have high cholesterol. Regular exercise has been show to lower the risk of developing dementia, as well as reducing the amount of salt in your diet. Eating plenty of fruit and vegetables provides your body with high levels of antioxidants which may help to protect against some of the damage to brain cells associated with Alzheimer’s Disease.
What should I do if I’m worried about my memory?
Memory loss isn’t the only symptom of dementia but if you are concerned then we advise people to visit their GP. Other symptoms might include mood swings, becoming withdrawn and having difficulty with communication. Do bear in mind that everyone experiences occasional lapses in concentration such as forgetting where we have parked the car or where we have left our keys. Our advice is to seek professional advice when memory loss starts to frequently interfere with your daily life.
What help is available to people with dementia and carers?
We want everyone affected by dementia to know that whoever you are, whatever you are going through, you can turn to Alzheimer’s Society for support, help and advice. We are the UK’s leading dementia charity, working tirelessly to challenge perceptions, fund research and improve and provide care and support. We can also put people in touch with local support groups provided by other organisations.
Where can I find out more?
You can contact us on 01832 736670 or our national helpline on 0300 222 11 22. Our website is also a valuable source of information about dementia (alzheimers.org.uk) and we have dozens of useful videos at youtube.com/alzheimerssociety which show real life examples of people living well with the condition. Thousands of people also share stories and advice at forum.alzheimers.org.uk
What can I do to help?
Alzheimer’s Society is urging everyone to unite against dementia. We rely on thousands of volunteers, who give their time to provide local support. We are always keen to hear from people who might be able to spare a few hours on a regular basis to help out with a local group or in a local office. You might also consider our Dementia Friends programme which involves volunteer ‘Champions’ giving information sessions about dementia in their local area. There are also dozens of ways in which you can support the cause through fundraising, such as running a marathon, organising a local event or just donating on a regular basis. You can find out more at alzheimers.org.uk/fundraise or call 0330 333 0804.
Helen Crawford, Alzheimer’s Society Services Manager in Northamptonshire