Dementia affects 850,000 people of all ages in the UK, a figure thats set to rise to 1.6 million over the next 20 years.
It is a diagnosis that can have have a profound affect on people’s lives, causing them to exhibit a wide range of emotions including fear and anger.
Over time, dementia will affect people in three key areas; their thinking, behaviour and the ability to perform everyday tasks and activities.
Cognitive functions may begin to be affected, with their memory and attention span failing alongside their language skills, judgement, special awareness and ability to receive and interpret information.
Once two, or more, of these functions has become significantly impaired, the diagnosis of dementia will be made.
When a loved one is suffering from dementia, it not only impacts the individual but those around them who only wish to help.
Here we discuss the effects of dementia to develop an understanding of what an individual goes through and in turn assist you in giving them the support and help they need to live a happy and fulfilled life.
Common types of dementia such as Alzheimer’s, vascular dementia and frontotemporal Dementia each start with shrinkage of brain tissue as a result of an abnormal build-up of proteins.
It is because of this build up that nerve cells begin to decrease in function and eventually die.
Different areas of the brain will then begin to shrink once the nerve cells have died, causing key cognitive functions to fail.
Depending on the type of dementia, shrinkage occurs in different areas of the brain which usually indicates the type of dementia through the symptoms an individual exhibits.
Over time, regardless of whether a person is suffering from Alzheimer’s, Lewy’s bodies or any other form of dementia, the symptoms will appear similar because there is shrinkage in more areas.
To put this into perspective, according to research distinguishing the loss of brain tissue between a normal, aging brain and one affected by Alzheimer’s, in the latter the hippocampus (which regulates motivation, emotion, learning and memory) may lose 3 to 4 percent a year, whereas loss in a normal brain may be less than 1 percent.
The result is that individuals will struggle to express themselves, or adequately regulate their emotions, as well as becoming unable to absorb or interpret information.
It can be a frightening and distressing time for both the individual and their loved ones, but it is important they are treated with care, compassion and respect.
It is estimated that up to 1 in 5 of all Alzheimer’s sufferers are effected by sundowning.
Also referred to as The Sundown Effect, it is a term used to describe changes in behaviour that occur in late afternoon or early evening.
When it begins to get dark outside, sufferers can quickly become angry or confused, suddenly unsure of their surroundings and what they ought to be doing.
In many cases you will see individuals insisting they need to pick up a child from school or that they must go home, even when they are already there and do not in fact need to do anything.
Many researchers and medical professionals are of the belief that when it begins to get dark, dementia sufferers instinctively start to feel panicked and believe they are unsafe.
This pattern of confusion and agitation often continues for several months and generally happens during the middle or later stages of dementia.
There are several factors that can cause sundowning, but some of the most common are feeling fatigued, being somewhere with too much or too little light, excessive noise, interrupted routines and medication wearing off.
It is however always important to remember these emotions may not necessarily be caused by sundowning even if it is approaching that time of day.
Often a specific need is not being met whether it’s dehydration, hunger or a full bladder.
The reality is an individual is simply trying to communicate as much with you.
You can read more into this on our Sundowning Blog…
Those suffering with dementia naturally experience significant behavioural changes over time.
But, does the moon have a part to play?
The term ‘lunatic’ derives from the Latin word lunaticus, which originally referred mainly to epilepsy and madness because diseases were thought to be caused by the moon.
There have been many studies, with Alan M. Beck of Purdue University finding that Alzheimer’s disease exhibited “significantly more behaviours during periods of full moon, and that these behaviours were of a greater duration during the full moon.”
Many complained of chest pains, anxiety, mood changes, panic attacks and self-destructive thoughts.
Sufferers can become unusually agitated, anxious and panicked, having sudden mood changes ranging from fear to anger.
There is still much research to be done surrounding the effects of dementia, particularly with lunar cycles, but many believe that the atmospheric pressure changes caused by the full moon may result in a shift in bodily awareness.
Equally, the intensity of the moon light may also cause sufferers to feel disconcerted. The effects of dementia will take a toll on individuals, both mentally and physically.
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