Dementia 101: Everything you need to know

Understanding the disease: What it is and how it is caused

Understanding dementia is not a simple task. We at Faircape Health, provide help, care, and support to those struggling with the challenges of a potentially debilitating disease. Abnormal brain changes are the root cause of the disorders collectively referred to as “dementia.” There are many questions about whether dementia is a natural part of ageing. It is not. We will help you understand what dementia is, what causes it and how you can care for your loved one during this strange and challenging time.

What is dementia?

Dementia is an umbrella term for a group of symptoms that can affect memory, problem-solving, language, and behaviour over time. Dementia occurs when a disease damages nerve cells in the brain and can happen at any age. However, the risk is exponentially higher as we age. Many dementia patients did not inherit the condition, but some rarer forms of the disease have been shown to have a genetic component, albeit in very small percentages. Dementia can happen to anyone at any age. 

The symptoms of dementia may initially be mild, but as the disease progresses, the symptoms worsen. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. According to the 2011 census, there are thought to be 2.2 million people in South Africa who have dementia of some kind. 

Types of Dementia

Below are other, lesser-known forms of the disease: 

Individuals with dementia have one of the four main types;

Alzheimer’s disease – the most common type of dementia. The first signs of Alzheimer’s are problems with memory, thinking, language, or perception.

Vascular dementia – is the second most common type of dementia. Common early signs of vascular dementia include problems with planning or organising, making decisions, or solving problems.

Dementia with Lewy Bodies (DLB) –  is caused by Lewy body disease. Symptoms include difficulty staying focused, experiencing delusions, and problems with movement and sleep.

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) – Pick’s disease or frontal lobe dementia, is less common. Symptoms include changes in personality and behaviour and/or difficulties with language.

What causes dementia?

Each distinct region of the brain is responsible for a particular function (such as memory, judgement, or movement). Dementia causes damage to cells, which prevents that region from performing its functions normally. Nerve cell deterioration can be caused by many different diseases. These diseases affect the brain in different ways, resulting in different types of dementia. Different types of brain cell damage in specific regions of the brain are linked to various types of dementia. For example, in Alzheimer’s disease, high levels of certain proteins inside and outside brain cells make it hard for brain cells to stay healthy and to communicate with each other.

Dementia is not a single disease; rather, it is an umbrella term that encompasses a wide range of specific medical conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease. Disorders classified as “dementia” are caused by abnormal brain changes.

How to help your loved one

Helping your loved one navigate this new and challenging world can be difficult; however, having knowledge about the disease will help you and them. Learn about their condition and what to expect as the disease progresses. You can handle the situation as best you can if you know what to anticipate. Providing care and support to your loved one is of utmost importance, and having the patience and understanding to recognise what they are experiencing is essential. 

Dementia in any form can be frustrating, for patients and their caregivers. Being considerate of the feelings associated with disease and understanding it from your loved ones’ perspective will help. Remember, their brain is struggling with basic functions; they are not trying to deliberately frustrate or anger you. 

At Faircape Health, our dementia caregivers are equipped to navigate the effects of the disease. We understand that dementia affects each person differently, and we provide the best care for each individual. We take great care to ensure that each patient receives the respect and care they deserve while overcoming the challenges of their illness. 

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