very day in Ireland, an average of 11 people are diagnosed with dementia. In fact, right now there are 55,000 people living with dementia in this country — more than would fill the Aviva Stadium.
Yet while many of us know someone with dementia, very few really understand it. A survey last year by the Health Service Executive found that just one in four believes that they have a good understanding of what dementia is.
Dr Christine Fitzgerald, from Trinity College’s Global Brain Health Institute, working with the nationwide ‘Dementia: Understand Together’ campaign, shares the following 10 things to know about dementia — to help you better support people living with the condition.
THERE IS MORE THAN ONE TYPE OF DEMENTIA
Dementia is not just one condition — in fact there are 400 different types. Dementia is an umbrella term for different diseases that damage the nerve cells in the brain.
Many people will know or have met someone with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common type of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for the majority of cases in older people and often develops slowly, over several years. In the early stages it can be difficult to distinguish from the mild forgetfulness that can be a normal part of ageing. September is World Alzheimer’s Month with events taking place around the globe to raise awareness and understanding of this particular type of dementia.
Another common but less well-known type of dementia is vascular dementia. This develops when the blood supply to the brain is reduced because of narrowing or blockages in blood vessels and brain cells becoming damaged.
It can occur suddenly, for example, following a stroke affecting major blood vessels, or it can occur more slowly over several years, particularly for people who have high blood pressure, high cholesterol or type 2 diabetes.
FORGETFULNESS DOESN’T ALWAYS MEAN DEMENTIA
Lots of things — other than dementia — can cause memory loss, including depression, thyroid abnormalities, vitamin deficiencies and sideeffects of medications, many of which can be treated.
While it’s not unusual for people to forget names or where they have put their keys from time to time, with dementia, memory loss is more significant than occasional forgetfulness and tends to gradually get worse. People may also begin to struggle with everyday tasks like paying bills and may get lost in familiar surroundings.
Whatever the cause, it is important to get to the root of the problem. If you are worried about your memory or think that you may have dementia, it’s a good idea to see your GP.
GETTING OLDER DOESN’T MEAN YOU WILL DEVELOP DEMENTIA
Although dementia usually affects people as they get older, it’s not a normal part of ageing. While most people who are living with dementia are aged over 65 years, the vast majority of older people do not develop the condition.
Similarly, dementia is not experienced only by older people — there are at least 4,000 people under the age of 65 years living with it in Ireland today. In someone under 65, this is called early or younger onset dementia. People who are diagnosed may have a family history of dementia and genetics may play a role. It can also affect those with other conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Huntington’s disease or HIV.
NO PERSON’S EXPERIENCE OF DEMENTIA IS THE SAME
Dementia is not all about memory loss and confusion. These are key features but everybody
Robots can improve the health of people with dementia by lowering stress levels, decreasing loneliness and