There are about 47 million people in the world with dementia. It’s thought that there are about 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK alone.
Depending on how you count them, there are about 130 different causes of dementia. By far the most common cause is Alzheimer’s disease, which early on causes difficulties in short term memory, learning, attention, and finding your way around.
Dementia, caused by various conditions of the brain, can affect anyone at any age. As I keep on telling my friends, anything can happen to anyone at any time, and this is theoretically the same for dementia (the risk of living with dementia gets higher as you get older). Arbitrarily, dementia occurring before the age of 65 gets called ‘young onset dementia’, but the cut off is totally arbitrary.
Common other causes of dementia, a progressive condition, include vascular dementia, diffuse lewy Body disease, and frontemporal dementia.
Some dementia runs tightly in families. In some there’s no family history at all. Roughly speaking, non-modifiable risk factors account for a huge amount of dementia; but there are important risk factors for dementia (e.g. the ones that cause cardiovascular disease). There’s no hard and fast rule about protecting yourself against dementia – for example, even highly educated individuals have developed dementia such as Oxford graduates Harold Wilson and Margaret Thatcher.
No two people living with dementia are the same. Even your perception of someone living with dementia is likely to be different to the perception of the same person by someone else. Dementia can affect any of the functions of the brain, including perception, planning, working memory or language. A dementia doesn’t have to be heralded by memory problems.
There’s a lot of it about. You’re very likely to know someone who knows someone who knows dementia at least. Sadly there are currently no treatments which have a longlasting effects on symptoms or delay disease progression. But this is changing – there’s currently a worldwide hunt for better treatments by 2025. All around the world, more money is being put into research, for cure, care, prevention and wellbeing, but such funds have typically far lagged behind those for cancer or HIV/AIDS for example.
You can do a lot to help by finding out a little bit about dementia; or finding out about (and joining) initiatives such as the Dementia Action Alliance, or Join Dementia Research. If you’re living with dementia, you can join the Dementia Alliance International. If you’re a family carer or organisation in England, you can join TIDE “Together in dementia everyday”. Or you can support one of the many charities for dementia, and take part in ‘Dementia Friends‘ a national programme to raise basic awareness of dementia for the general public.