When a loved one begins to show signs of diminishing cognitive and emotional functions, it is usually a sign of dementia. According to statistics, someone in the world develops dementia every 3 seconds. It is estimated that over 75 million people worldwide will fall victim to this condition, which is one of the major causes of disability and dependency among older peoples. It can be quite demanding not only for the people who contract dementia but also for their loved ones.
What is dementia?
Dementia is a terminal condition that degenerates one’s brain cells, and while this affects memory and thought functions, it will also affect the brain’s main functions. Progressive degeneration of the brain cells will eventually cause various bodily and organ functions to fail, which will then lead to several health-related complications and diseases, and finally death. However, the speed and pattern of progression of the disease can differ accordingly to the afflicted, with some cases being able to live up to 20 years with good care from the right sources.
What affects life expectancy in dementia patients?
- Age: Most people with dementia are usually those of the elderly and may already be vulnerable to other illnesses and chronic conditions.
- Sex: Some research has suggested that, on average, dementia afflicted women may live longer than their male counterparts. This is due to the women being able to secrete oestrogen, which is an important hormone that affects some organs around the body, but more importantly in brain growth and one’s mental wellbeing, and in turn memory and cognitive functions.
- Lifestyle Choices: Evidence has proven that lifestyle choices have affected the risk of developing dementia, especially during the mid-life. Good lifestyle choices include regular physical exercise, maintaining a healthy diet, and engaging in mentally stimulating activities.
- General health and wellbeing: People with dementia who already have other illnesses or prior health conditions will tend to have a lower life expectancy than those who are generally healthy. However, adopting healthy lifestyle choices, with advice from a medical professional can at least slow down the progress of the disease.
- Diagnosis: Diagnosis is important in detecting the severity of the disease, and it’s more important to recognize the symptoms associated with it as early as possible. If the disease is identified at a later stage, especially when patient has already manifested these symptoms at the time of the diagnosis, it usually correlates to the patient having a much lower survival rate. Doctors can diagnose dementia based on the patient’s medical history which is usually followed by physical examinations, some laboratory testing, and documenting characteristics associated with dementia, day-to-day activity and behavioural changes. However, it’s much harder to determine the exact type of dementia because the symptoms and brain changes of different dementias can overlap. For a clearer prognosis of the dementia type it may be necessary to visit specialists such as a neurologist or geropsychologist.
- Type of dementia: Various forms of dementia will have different patterns and speed of progression. Alzheimer disease is the most common form and may contribute to 60–70% of cases. Other uncommon forms include vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies (abnormal aggregates of protein that develop inside nerve cells), and a group of diseases that contribute to frontotemporal dementia (degeneration of the frontal lobe of the brain). The boundaries between these different types of dementia are indistinct, and may even co-exist at the same time.
Living with dementia
While there is yet to be a cure for dementia, knowledge about the disease and seeking professional consultation and treatment, as well as empathy and care will be key in coping with the symptoms and hardships that comes with the disease, both for the afflicted and their loves one. Don’t hesitate and act while you can.