September marks World Alzheimer's Month and World Alzheimer's day (21st).
While there's still plenty that we don't know about the disease, it is now acknowledged that there are actually over 100 different clinical variants of dementia affecting around 50 million people worldwide, 850,000 in the UK. The most common - and well known of these - is Alzheimer's, which affects between 50-80% of dementia sufferers.
What many people don't realise is that these different dementia types can display significantly different behaviours, so it's important to understand what type of dementia your loved one has, to enable you to plan effectively for their whole illness - typically around 4-8 years after diagnosis (but can be anything up to 20 years).
General Dementia Symptoms Include:
The Most Common Forms of Dementia & Their Symptoms
Alzheimer's - Abnormal proteins cause brain cells to die resulting in memory loss which may eventually affect the ability to speak, dress, walk, wash and go to the toilet, as well as the ability to recognise people including loved ones. Other symptoms include issues with concentration and spatial awareness, delusions and hallucinations, agitation or aggression, anxiety or depression and disrupted sleep patterns.
Vascular Dementia - Caused by a lack of blood flow to the brain, this can occur suddenly after a big stroke or come on slowly after multiple smaller strokes. Symptoms include confusion, disorientation, lack of concentration, hallucinations and issues with vision. They can have periods of stability followed by stages of rapid or dramatic decline.
Lewy Body Dementia - This is caused by abnormal protein deposits disrupting messages to the brain and has many similar symptoms to Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, including memory loss and disorientation, hallucinations, sleep disruption. However, this variant also often includes trembling hands, difficulty in walking and a general feeling of weakness.
Pick's Disease/Frontotemporal Dementia - This affects the areas of the brain that control language and behaviour and causes lack of inhibition, compulsive behaviour and speech issues. A behavioural variant changes personality and behaviour but initially doesn't affect memory.
Creutzfeldt-Jakob - With many general symptoms of dementia, this also has physical and muscular effects such as twitching and stiffness. Sufferers decline is also often quicker, resulting in death within a year.
Mixed Dementia - A combination of any of the above, although most commonly vascular dementia and Alzheimer's, symptoms include memory loss and disorientation and often result in loss of speech and ability to walk.
Many other diseases such as Parkinson's, Huntington's and Multiple Sclerosis can also result in or include dementia in the later stages.
When choosing care for a loved one with dementia, it's critical to understand three things, says Debbie Harris at Chosen with Care:
If you can get this information and talk this through with prospective care homes, the chances of your loved one becoming unmanageable for the home and consequently being asked to leave will be reduced. It's beneficial to have this conversation before entering the home as moving facilities in the later stages of dementia can be distressing and disorienting for the person involved.