Dementia is a neurodegenerative disorder characterized by a loss of neurons and a decline in cognitive function. Although Alzheimer’s Disease is perhaps the best known of the dementias, there are actually many different types of dementia each with its own pathophysiology.
Dementia typically occurs in older people, however, it is not a “normal” part of aging. It affects people around the world and, unfortunately, is becoming more common every year.
Dementia interferes many of activities of daily living, including memory, thinking, and social capabilities. The impact on daily life can range from mild to severe depending on the individual.
Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for dementia.
Here are a few statistics about the condition that may surprise you:
- Nearly 50 million people worldwide live with dementia. That number is expected to increase to 82 million by 2030 and 152 million by 2050.1
- 63% of the worldwide population living with dementia live in low- and middle-income countries. This percentage is projected to rise to 71% by 2050.1
- 9 million new cases of dementia are diagnosed worldwide each year. That means a new case of dementia is diagnosed every 3 seconds!1
- 2% of people over the age of 60 worldwide live with dementia.2
- 60% to 80% of dementia cases are classified as Alzheimer’s disease.3
- East Asia is the region with the highest number of people living with dementia (9.8 million), followed by Western Europe (7.5 million), South Asia, and North America.2
- More than 16 million Americans provide unpaid care for people with dementia, totaling an estimated 18.5 billion hours of care.3
- Dementia costs the United States $818 billion per year and is estimated to increase at an even faster rate than the number of diagnoses.1
Symptoms of dementia
Dementia symptoms vary from person to person, but regardless, early diagnosis can significantly improve the quality of life for both the patient and their caregivers.
Early access to specialized health care and support can mean a world of difference for dementia patients. Generally, a person with dementia exhibits a combination of the following symptoms:
- Memory loss – repeatedly asking the same question or forgetting loved ones
- Difficulty completing routine tasks – unable to cook a meal or properly bathe
- Trouble grasping abstract concepts – mismanaging money
- Problems communicating – difficulty finding words
- Disorganization – running late, misplacing items
- Disorientation – getting lost, even in familiar areas
- Mood changes – depression or anxiety
- Personality changes – inappropriate behavior, paranoia, agitation
- Difficulty motor functions – coordination issues
Unfortunately, over time the symptoms of dementia worsen as the patient ages. Late-stage dementia often has the same symptoms, just intensified to the point that it significantly impedes daily activities. For example, someone with late-stage dementia is likely
to suffer from severe memory loss and behavioral problems.
Dementia care often falls on the loved ones closest to the individual with dementia, which is usually the spouse or the children. Being a caregiver for someone with dementia can be extremely time-consuming and stressful for loved ones without professional help.
As previously mentioned, more than 16 million Americans provide unpaid care for people with dementia — that care is valued at $234 billion!3 Although professional care can be expensive, it’s important to weigh the cost-benefit of being a full-time caregiver.
Dementia treatment facilities can provide excellent living environments for seniors with dementia allowing them to thrive despite their condition. These facilities strive to find a balance between care and independent living so that seniors with dementia can continue to feel autonomous and in control of their own lives. Maintaining that sense of independence is one of the best ways to reduce the likelihood of depression or other psychological conditions that are often associated with dementia.
There are several treatment options for dementia, including medications, certain types of therapy, and even simple lifestyle changes. Here are some of the most common treatments:
Although medicines can’t stop or slow the progress of dementia, there are several medications that can help treat the symptoms of dementia.
- Cholinesterase inhibitors boost levels of the chemical in the brain associated with memory and judgment. It’s primarily used to treat Alzheimer’s patients.
- Memantine is a medicine that regulates glutamate activity which is associated with learning and memory.
As always, consult a doctor before taking any medications. Doctors may also prescribe other medications to treat some of the effects of dementia, such as depression.
There are many types of therapy, and just like it’s important to find the right therapist, it’s important to find the right type of therapy.
Here are a few therapy modalities that can be especially beneficial for patients with dementia:
- Occupational therapy is a great option for dementia patients because it teaches patients how to live with dementia and create modifications for a safe environment.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy can alleviate other psychological or behavioral symptoms of dementia, and can also help make the diagnosis less scary.
Changing old habits isn’t always easy, but these lifestyle changes are certainly the cheapest way to combat the symptoms of dementia. In fact, most of them are free!
- Exercise improves strength, cardiovascular health, and general well-being. Plus, it boosts brain activity!
- Routines like morning and nighttime rituals help minimize daily confusion by creating established patterns.
- A detailed calendar with information about time and location of doctor’s appointments will help dementia patients stay on schedule.
- Clear, direct communication is best when speaking to a loved one with dementia. Speak slowly using simple sentences without being patronizing.
At this point, there is no cure for dementia, but with the proper care and treatment, people can live happily, despite a dementia diagnosis.
1 World Health Organization 10 facts on dementia
2 Alzheimer’s Disease International World Alzheimer Report 2015: The Global Impact of Dementia
3 Alzheimer’s Association Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures