What is Dementia? Signs, Prevention, and More
Dementia is a general term that does not refer to a specific disease, but rather a set of symptoms affecting brain function that are caused by neurodegenerative and vascular diseases or injuries. One of the most common forms of the disorder is Alzheimer’s disease, but there are others as well. This set of diseases is not a natural part of aging and usually affects people over 65 years of age, but early-onset dementia can also affect people under 65.
Signs and symptoms
Dementia affects people differently. There are three stages to dementia: early stage, middle stage, and late stage.
Early-stage: This stage is often overlooked as there is a gradual progression process, but it is critical to identify dementia in this stage to be able to manage the symptoms. Common symptoms include:
- Confusion with time and places
- Communication problems
Middle stage: At this stage, the signs and symptoms become clearer as an individual’s dementia progresses. These signs and symptoms include:
- Increasing problem with communication
- Need for assistance to perform everyday activities
- Feeling lost at home
- Rapidly forgetting recent events and people
- Change in behavior
Late-stage: An individual in the late stage can no longer be independent and the signs and symptoms are very noticeable. These include:
- Total dependence on others
- Extreme temper and behavior changes
- A drastic drop in mobility
- Not recognizing family members and close friends
- Unaware of most things happening in their surroundings
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are around 50 million people living with dementia worldwide and there are 10 million new cases each year. The total number of people with dementia is projected to reach 82 million in 2030 and 152 million in 2050.
Common forms of dementia
Dementia can take on many different forms. The most prominent one being Alzheimer’s disease which attributes to more than half of the cases. Other widely known forms include Lewy-body, Parkinson’s disease, Frontotemporal, and Huntington’s disease. Boundaries are often hard to identify, so there exist mixed forms of dementia.
As of 2021 there is no cure for dementia. There are medications that temporarily reduce the progression of symptoms. Nevertheless, we need to push through with research and clinical trials to make a change.
The socio-economic impact of dementia can simply not be disregarded as it is significant and ever-growing. This includes the impact on our healthcare system and out-of-pocket caregivers’ cost. It was reported in the study Prevalence and Monetary Costs of Dementia in Canada, the combined Canadian health care system costs and out-of-pocket caregiver costs amounted to $10.4 billion in 2016. By 2031, this figure is expected to increase to $16.6 billion. People are stepping in as caregivers due to their parents or grandparents having the disorder. This leads to a loss of productivity in the economy and millions of unpaid hours as caregivers. These figures will only keep increasing as time goes by.
Risk factors & prevention
The greatest risk factor for Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia is aging. According to Alzheimer’s Disease International, researchers have confirmed that 1% of all diagnosed cases of dementia are as a result of genetics. Although aging and genetics cannot be prevented, a growing body of research evidence exists that identifies 12 potentially modifiable risk factors. Physical inactivity, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, air pollution, head injury, infrequent social contact, less education, obesity, hypertension, diabetes, depression and hearing impairment are the 12 modifiable risk factors. If all of these risk factors could be modified, up to 40% of cases of dementia could be delayed or prevented.
What is our role?
Hope for Dementia aspires to be a leading advocate and catalyst for the prevention and reversal of dementia.
Our mission is to safeguard healthy brains. To do this, we focus on building public awareness, offering proactive prevention programs and investing in promising research on the deceleration and reversal of symptoms that provide “Hope for Dementia”.