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Dementia - the price we pay
The CB Friday  , Friday, March 5, 2004

One downside of our longer lifespan is dementia, a progressive brain dysfunction, which restricts daily activities and in most cases leads to the need for care.
We all forget or misplace things, we cannot remember names, cannot find our car in the car park and have other similar lapses. Dementia, therefore, whilst not familiar is also not entirely alien to us.
People with Alzheimer suffer mainly from impaired memory and orientation, limitations of concentration, planning and judgement, personality changes and later also perceptual, speech and walking disorders. In the final stage, various other body functions such as swallowing and the excretion process are also affected.

The most important early indications of dementia include:

Forgetfulness with effects at work:
If this happens more frequently and inexplicable states of confusion also occur, this might be an indication for a decline in memory function.

Difficulties with familiar activities:
People with dementia possibly not only forget that they have left something cooking in the oven but also that they have cooked at all.

Language problems:
Dementia sufferers often cannot remember simple words and instead they use inappropriate alternatives, which makes it difficult to understand the sentences.

Problems with spatial and temporal orientation:
Dementia sufferers might be in their own street and no longer know where they are, how they got there and how to get home again.

Impaired capacity of judgement:
Dementia sufferers sometimes wear totally inappropriate clothes. For example, they wear a bathrobe while shopping

Problems with abstract thinking:
Dementia patients can often neither recognise numbers nor carry out simple calculations.

Leaving things behind:
Dementia sufferers however might put things in completely inappropriate places, such as for example the iron in the fridge or a watch in the sugar bowl.
Mood swings:
People with dementia may have very sudden mood swings, often without discernible cause.

Personality changes:
People affected by dementia may experience a very pronounced personality change suddenly or over a longer period of time and become unexpectedly angry, jealous or timid.

Loss of initiative:
Dementia patients sometimes loose the zest in their work and the interest in their hobbies.

In medical terms, Alzheimer's disease is divided into mild, moderate and severe or early-stage, mid-stage and late-stage Alzheimer. The mild stage is characterised by impaired mental abilities and mood swings. In the moderate stage, behavioural disturbances usually increasingly develop, and physical problems are dominant in the advanced stage.
As with numerous other diseases there is no cure for the illness but medication can improve disease symptoms and can slow down the progression, which can be considered a positive response to treatment. Developing new treatments for dementia is a very active area of research, particularly for the pharmaceutical industry. Almost every major pharmaceutical company has at least one or more new drugs for dementia under development. However, the first step towards a cure is to develop effective treatments – they may not stop or reverse the disease but they do at least give temporary respite and relief.

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