Dementia is an umbrella term for numerous different physical conditions which affect the brain. Dementia is almost always progressive, and can’t be cured. The three most common kinds of dementia are Alzheimer’s disease, followed by vascular dementia, and then Lewy-body dementia. There are many more rare types of dementia.

The different kinds of dementia all have different symptoms, although these may overlap. These can include difficulties with mental processes such as memory and the ability to make reasonable judgements. Often, people in the early stages of dementia will display loss of short-term recall, while memories from longer ago remain intact. Problems with visual perception may occur (the person may become confused by what they are seeing, leading to problems using money and driving).Some kinds of dementia may make people hallucinate, and some people with dementia may undergo personality changes (commonly out-of-character behaviour or mood swings). People with dementia may be more prone to falling and restlessness at night-time. Many other symptoms also exist. It is important to note that there is no ‘set pattern’ of symptoms. Individual human beings react to dementia in very individual ways. For example,  there is no such thing as a definite ‘aggressive stage’ of dementia.

Dementia is primarily a problem of old-age; if you live till you are in your 90’s you will have, roughly, a one –in –three chance of developing dementia. Dementia in younger people is much rarer, tends to have a significant hereditary basis, and is not increasing in the population. Dementia can be caused by other diseases not usually associated with the condition, and can also be the result of misuse of substances such as alcohol. Dementia is becoming much more widespread in Western societies simply because we are living longer, and the number of people with dementia is projected to double in the next 20 years.    

What treatment or medication is used?

It’s very important to ensure people with dementia are supported for as long as is possible to continue living in home environments. Familiar surroundings in the form of people and places are vital in helping to ‘anchor’ the person in the here-and-now, maintaining their sense of selfhood, and staving off potential disorientation/confusion. In addition, communities can become more ‘dementia-friendly’  (this can extend from individual awareness of dementia-related issues and simply ‘looking out’ for people with dementia, to active modification of community resources like shops to better suit people with dementia).

Certain ‘dementia-specific ‘ medications are available which can be used to treat some of the dementias (but not all). In some cases, they may ‘sharpen up’ a person’s memory, in others they will have no visible effect but will slow the progression of the condition, and for some people no benefit at all will occur. These drugs are not a cure for dementia.   

Is there any support available for families of someone with Dementia?

It’s recognised that the effects of dementia in one individual can affect families, friends and wider circles of people in tight communities. This being so, families/friends of people with dementia are made part of the assessment process when dementia is being queried, and are often considered via ‘carers assessments’ when plans of support from formal service providers are being set up . Also, Alzheimer Scotland now have an active local branch which boasts an ever-increasing  programme of supportive activities and events set up by their two dedicated workers and committee of volunteers. 

I’m worried about myself/ someone else, what should I do?

If you have concerns about yourself, the first thing to do is to visit your GP. They will perform an initial assessment, and if they feel it is necessary, then refer you to Shetland Memory Assessment Service. This is staffed by a senior doctor specialising in dementia, and two specialist dementia nurses. They can assess, diagnose and give advice on treatment and management of dementia.

If you have concerns about someone else, your actions might depend on how well you know them. You may be able to advise  them to visit their GP. If you know them less well, direction on what you could do is also available from Ann Williamson, local Alzheimer Scotland advisor. There is also an Alzheimer Scotland telephone ‘dementia helpline’.  Contact details are shown below.

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