The word “dementia” is an umbrella term for anything that can cause issues with brain functioning such as confusion, memory loss, or loss of problem solving ability. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia in older persons, but there are many more varieties, including Lewy Body dementia, vascular dementia, or frontal lobe dementia.
Dementia often develops slowly and is not always obvious in the early stages. Alzheimer's disease is a progressive illness. This means that the structure and chemistry of the brain become increasingly damaged over time. Symptoms similar to dementia can be seen in other illnesses. Sometimes it can be difficult to tell apart dementia from the usual mild forgetfulness seen in normal ageing.
Most of us forget things every day, like people’s names or where we put our keys, but this is not necessarily a sign of Alzheimer’s or dementia. In dementia, memory loss is more serious and recurrent than forgetting things occasionally.
There are many reasons why people become forgetful. Some medicines and drugs can affect memory, for example. Depression, anxiety, vitamin deficiency and thyroid problems can also cause forgetfulness, so it’s important to get the right diagnosis.
Families often say that they struggle to understand what doctors mean by dementia. That’s why it’s important to ask the doctor what type of dementia is being diagnosed. David Troxel, a noted global dementia expert who worked with Home Instead Senior Care to develop its Alzheimer’s and Other Dementias CARE Training Program, emphasises that the doctor should be able to tell you the specific diagnosis and the reason for that diagnosis.
“It’s important to know the type of dementia being diagnosed,” Troxel said, “because different dementias have different characteristics, and families and carers need to know what to expect.”
He added “It can be very helpful and reassuring for families to know that a particular behaviour is part of the particular disease, not just ‘bad behaviour’,”
Educating family caregivers empowers them to form a team with healthcare professionals, social services and other dementia care specialists, focused on providing the best possible care for their family member. That focus needs to include an accurate understanding of the diagnosis, its symptoms, and its possible treatments.
There are options available for Alzheimer’s and dementia care professionals to look after your loved ones, people that are trained to understand the distinctions between various dementias and ways to overcome the challenges. You do not have to face a struggle on your own.
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Importance of early diagnosis
Different dementias may call for different medicines.
Diagnosing dementia early is important to allow you to get the right help and treatments for your loved ones and to plan for the future. You can feel that you and your family are in good hands.
A GP will be able to either reassure you or, if necessary, refer the person to a specialist.
If the person is reluctant to visit the doctor, contact the GP yourself and raise your concerns. It is good practice that the GP or specialists involves those closest to the person with dementia as often they can provide more information to allow the right treatment and package of care to be prescribed.