Dementia is a common condition that affects about 800,000 people in the UK. Your risk of developing dementia increases as you get older, and the condition usually occurs in people over the age of 65. Dementia is a syndrome (a group of related symptoms) associated with an ongoing decline of the brain and its abilities.
Everyone experiences dementia in their own way. Different types of dementia can also affect how people experience the condition. Some common symptoms associated with dementia are listed below:
- memory loss – including problems recalling recent events, repeating questions or accounts of particular experiences
- difficulty thinking things through to plan, organise and make decisions to complete complex tasks or to solve a problem
- problems communicating – including difficulties finding the right word, following and making sense of conversation
- experiencing disorientation - confusion about the time, date or season, or being unsure about the current environment, even in a place that may be well known
- sight and visual difficulties – such as difficulty judging distances, misinterpreting patterns
- mood changes or difficulties controlling emotions – for example, becoming unusually sad, frightened, angry or upset, losing interest in things or becoming withdrawn.
Dementia is generally a progressive condition, which means that symptoms will become more difficult over time. How dementia progresses varies from person to person. Some people with dementia maintain their independence for many years but in time may need support with daily activities such as cooking or personal care, or help with decision making.
Source: www.nhs.uk and www.alzheimers.org.uk/
There are many different types of dementia. Some are far more common than others. These include:
The Alzheimer’s Society website has a fact sheet on each of these types of dementia plus other rarer types of dementia on their page: Types of Dementia
Delirium is a state of confusion that can happen if you become medically unwell. It is also known as an 'acute confusional state'. About two in ten patients that are admitted to hospital experience a period of delirium.
Symptoms of delirium include:
- disorientated thoughts and speech
- memory difficulties
- illusions or hallucinations
- changes to sleep patterns
The above symptoms can come and go or increase and decrease in severity over a 24 hour period.
Medical problems, surgery, infection, dehydration, constipation and medications can all cause delirium. It often starts suddenly and usually lifts when the condition causing it gets better. It can be frightening – not only for the person who is unwell, but also for those around the patient.
How is delirium treated:
If someone suddenly becomes confused, they need to see a doctor urgently. To treat delirium you need to treat the cause. For example, an infection may be treated with antibiotics.
The person with delirium may be too confused to describe what has happened to them, so it's important that the doctor can talk to someone who knows the patient well. Regular contact with familiar people may also help to reassure, calm and orientate the person with delirium. If the person with delirium is feeling very distressed, agitated or has psychotic symptoms (e.g. feeling scared, paranoid or experiencing hallucinations) a limited trial of an antipsychotic medication and/or a sedative may be considered.
Cognitive impairment is when a person has trouble remembering, learning new things, concentrating, or making decisions that affect their everyday life. People who have received a diagnosis of dementia will have some cognitive impairment. Other physical health problems, developmental problems and some mental health problems can also cause people to experience cognitive impairment.
Mild Cognitive Impairment
Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) is a condition in which someone has minor problems with one or more aspects of thinking and/or memory.
In MCI, these difficulties are worse than would be expected for a healthy person. They may cause minor problems and assistance may be required for more demanding tasks e.g. paying bills, managing medication, driving. However, symptoms of MCI are not severe enough to interfere significantly with daily life, and are therefore not defined or diagnosed as dementia.
It is estimated that between 5 and 20 per cent of people aged over 65 have MCI. Research in memory clinics suggests that around 10 to 15 per cent of people who experience MCI with gradual memory loss go on to develop dementia each year.