HEALTH WATCH: Dementia - Know the Facts

Article excerpt

THE Alzheimer's Society in Northern Ireland is celebrating its 25th Anniversary this year with the theme It Makes You Think.

Health Watch will be publishing a series of articles this year to help create more awareness of this disease which affects around 20,000 people in Northern Ireland, 18,000 of them aged under 65 years.

CLAIRE MULLAN, communications officer with the Society outlines the disease, its symptoms and treatments.

What is Dementia?

Dementia is a term used to describe various different brain disorders that have in common a loss of brain function that is usually progressive and eventually severe.

There are over 100 different types of dementia. The most common are Alzheimer's disease, vascular dementia and dementia with Lewy bodies.

Every person experiences dementia in their own individual way, but there is usually a decline in memory, reasoning and communication skills and a gradual loss of the skills needed to carry out daily activities.

BECOMING forgetful does not necessarily mean that you have dementia.

Diagnosis

Memory loss can be an effect of ageing. It can also be a symptom of stress or depression, vitamin deficiency or thyroid problems.

However, if you are worried about yourself, or someone close to you, it is worth discussing your concerns with your GP.

After an initial assessment to rule out other illnesses that might have similar symptoms to dementia, including depression, the GP may then refer you to a specialist consultant for a more detailed investigation.

Assessments can include conversations with the person being diagnosed and those close to them, a physical examination, memory tests and/or brain scans.

Types of Dementia

Alzheimer's Disease, first described by the German neurologist Alois Alzheimer, is a physical disease affecting the brain.

During the course of the disease 'plaques' and 'tangles' develop in the structure of the brain, leading to the death of brain cells.

People with Alzheimer's disease have a shortage of some important chemicals in their brain. These chemicals are involved with the transmission of messages within the brain. …