Lent prompt 25: International Women’s Day: Dementia and UK women

Half a million women in the UK are now living with dementia; this correlated with women living into their 80s. The condition is the leading cause of death in women in the UK.

Women are also more likely to take on unpaid caring roles for other people with dementia and are more than twice as likely as men to provide intensive, 24-hour care.

Lent Prompt 22: Analogy for memory in dementia brain

An analogy for a dementia brain regarding memory problems, is that it is like a wobbly book case. The top books fall first. It is the top where the latest memories are so they are the ones lost.

The part of the brain called the hippocampus is responsible for facts, names, biographies and dates. In a brain affected by dementia the hippocampus is like a flimsy book shelf therefore the information that it is responsible for is affected by the dementia.

The part of the brain called the amygdala is responsible for emotion. In a dementia Brian this remains a sturdy book case. This means a person with dementia may not remember a day out but the happiness remains.

Lent Prompt 18: Inheritance of Dementia

Research is continuing into genetics of dementia. Certain types are more likely to be passed down in genes than others. For example see yesterday’s prompt where Familiar Alzheimer’s disease where offspring of someone with the gene have a 50% chance of developing. Whereas vascular dementia which is caused by damages to blood vessels is more affected by lifestyle factors. Although conditions like high blood pressure or diabetes which can increase risk of dementia can themselves be passed down genetically therefore inheritance of dementia is complex.

Lent Prompt 17: Familiar Alzheimer’s Disease

Familiar Alzheimer’s Disease is rare (affecting a 2-3% of people with dementia). The symptoms begin younger than in other types dementia (earlier than 65). Apparently this was the subject of the film Still Alice. It is an autosomal dominant condion meaning the risk for those with an affected parent is about 50% but those without family history will almost certainly not get this version of dementia.

Lent Prompt 15: Dementia with Lewy Bodies

Lewy Bodies named after Fredric Lewy who discovered them; they are accumulations of proteins called alpha synuclein in brain cell. With this type of dementia as well as the neurological (thinking) symptoms there are motor symptoms such as stiffer, slower movement and tremor like in Parkinson’s.

With all dementia the symptoms can fluctuate but with other types the fluctuations are over weeks whilst with Lewy bodies fluctuations can occur throughout the day.

Also people with Lewy bodies may experience hallucinations.

Lent Prompt 14: Dementia and Depression

Up to 40% of people with Alzheimer’s have depression. Depression is also seen with other types of depression. Although it is possible to live with dementia it is not hard to see, how having it because of it’s impact on everyday life (see lent prompt one for symptoms), could make someone depressed. Research is ongoing as to whether those who have suffered depression are at greater risk of developing depression,

It can be difficult to diagnose depression in someone with dementia as some of the symptoms such as apathy are symptoms of both depression and dementia.

Anti depressants can help the depression symptoms.

Lent Prompt 13: Treatment for vascular dementia

There is no cure for vascular dementia. Treatment for vascular dementia aims to prevent further damage which could involve the dementia following:

  • Changing diet. To reduce weight or low salt to lower blood pressure as high blood pressure causes vascular damage.
  • Stopping smoking.
  • Reducing alcohol.
  • Medication to treat diabetes if that is a problem.
  • Medications to treat high blood pressure.
  • Medication to prevent blood clots like April or clipidigral or warfarin.
  • Medications to treat high cholesterol as cholesterol can block blood vessels. These medications are caused statins.

The medications to treat Alzheimer’s are not effective for vascular dementia alone but are used if patients have Alzheimer’s as well as Vascular Dementia.

Lent Prompt 10: Vascular Dementia

The second most common type of dementia is vascular dementia. Difficulties with memory, thinking and language skills occur due to reduced blood to the brain due to damage to the blood vessels supplying the brain.  Ultimately when blood can not reach blood cells, they die. As well as difficulties with memory, thinking and language skills; it is common for someone with vascular dementia to have emotional symptoms such as apathy, depression and anxiety. The emotions can be further adversely affected because of realisation of burden placing on carers.

Lent Prompt 8: Alzheimer’s 

As mentioned as there are 100s of different types of dementia the most common type is Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s is caused by the death of brain tissue due to tangled and plaques forming and also there is a reduction in the chemicals that transmit messages around the brain.

Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, which means the symptoms become worse over time.  Alzheimer’s first affects the hippocampus which has a central role in short term memories this makes it difficult for those with Alziemer’s to remember recent events and learn new information. Therefore those with Alzheimer’s may lose things, in conversations struggle to find right word or people’s names, forget appointments and get lost in familiar places. As the condition progresses getting lost becomes more common, there is increased problems with speech such as repeating phrases and not remembering words and increased visuspatial problems with tasks like parking.

Lent prompt 6: Dementia is not an inevitable part of growing older

Dementia is not an inevitable part of getting older – while it’s true that the majority of people with dementia are over 65, the condition is not a normal part of getting older. The likelihood of developing dementia rises with age, but it’s not a given that an older person will develop it.