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Dementia: The facts.

WHAT is dementia? THE term dementia describes a set of symptoms which include loss of memory, mood changes, and problems with communication and reasoning. These symptoms occur when the brain is damaged by certain diseases, including Alzheimer's disease or damage caused by a series of small strokes.

Dementia is progressive, which means the symptoms will gradually get worse.

How fast dementia progresses will depend on the individual person and what type of dementia they have. Each person is unique and will experience dementia in their own way. It is often the case that the person's family and friends are more concerned about the symptoms than the person may be themselves.

SYMPTOMS of dementia may include the following: Loss of memory -- this particularly affects short-term memory, for example forgetting what happened earlier in the day, not being able to recall conversations, being repetitive or forgetting the way home from the shops. Longterm memory is usually still quite good.

Mood changes -- people with dementia may be withdrawn, sad, frightened or angry about what is happening to them.

Communication problems -- including problems finding the right words for things, for example describing the function of an item instead of naming it.

In the later stages of dementia, the person affected will have problems carrying out everyday tasks and will become increasingly dependent on other people. Many people fear they have dementia, particularly if they think that their memory is getting worse or if they have known someone who has had the illness. Becoming forgetful does not necessarily mean that you have dementia: memory loss can be an effect of ageing, and it can also be a sign of stress or depression. In rare cases, dementia-like symptoms can be caused by vitamin deficiencies and/or a brain tumour. If you are worried about yourself, or someone close to you, it is worth discussing your concerns with your GP.

It is very important to get a proper diagnosis. A diagnosis will help the doctor rule out any illnesses that might have similar symptoms to dementia, including depression.

Having a diagnosis may also mean it is possible to be prescribed drugs for Alzheimer's disease.

Whether you are someone with dementia or a carer, a diagnosis can help with preparing and planning for the future.

Dementia can be diagnosed by a doctor - either a GP or a specialist. The specialist may be a geriatrician (a doctor specialising in the care of older people), a neurologist (someone who concentrates on diseases of the nervous system) or a psychiatrist (a mental health specialist). The doctor may carry out a number of tests to check basic thinking processes and the ability to perform daily tasks. They may request further tests, such as a brain scan or a more in-depth assessment of memory, concentration and thinking skills.

Can dementia be prevented? At present, it is not clear what causes most of the diseases that lead to dementia. It is not clear what can be done to prevent dementia itself but the evidence does indicate that a healthy diet and lifestyle may help protect against dementia.

In particular, exercising regularly, avoiding fatty foods, not smoking, drinking alcohol in moderation and keeping mentally and socially active into old age may help to reduce the risk of developing vascular dementia and Alzheimer's disease.
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Publication:Birmingham Mail (England)
Date:Sep 18, 2013
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