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The Growing Impact Of Dementia


Thursday, February 26th, 2009 The Growing Impact Of Dementia

Inexcess have covered the sense of loss TV presenter John Suchet suffered when his much loved wife Bonnie 67 was diagnosed with the debilitaing disease of Alzheimer’s. “The Bonnie I loved has gone. It’s as if she has died. Dementia has taken her.”

Alas, the Independent’s health editor Jeremy Laurance (18 02 09) explores issues surrounding the impact of dementia and its consequences on the carers.

With reference to Suchet, Laurance asks the question, ‘Is his decision to speak out unusual?’

Most certainly, dementia was considered as an embarrassing affliction that was given little discussion and invariably by family members only. Less so thankfully these days and as Laurance states, ‘in the past decade, it has come out of the closet and gained a higher profile.’

Indeed, it was Ronald Reagan who in 1994 declared that he was suffering from the condition and therefore broke the mould for others such as Charlton Heston and the author Iris Murdoch.

Most recently and probably the most powerful and current representative is the novelist Terry Pratchett, who at 59 was diagnosed with the condition. Moreover, Pratchett donated £1m towards research and has campaigned significantly for a greater recognition of the condition.

Fundamentally and essentially there is a need to determine if there are any differnces between dementia and Alzheimer’s. In terms of classification dementia specifically refers to a whole class of conditions, ie loss of memory, confused thought processes and agitation. Very importantly, more than 700,00 of the British population are affected.A further 20 per cent have vascular dementia, caused by mini-strokes which disrupt the blood supply to the brain, which is commonest in people with heart disease and high blood pressure. The remaining 25 per cent have a range of causes.

Moving on and identifying the effects of dementia. It is recognised as a slow process of mental ‘derangement’, which ultimatey strips the person of memory, personality and as Laurance indicates ‘their humanity’. The disorder is progressive and incurable, it is relentless.

The process of diagnosing the condition can be complex as it is difficult to distinguish from the ordinary ageing. An examinatioin of the brain is imperative after death to establish the presence of plaques and tangles. Notably diagnosis whilst the patient is alive depends on the skilll of the doctor.

Of crucial importance, if the cause is not obvious then a referral to a memory clinic will be required.

It has been suggested that a healthy Mediterranean diet, rich in fruit and vegetables, taking plenty of exercise and keeping mentally active will help prevent the disorder. Keeping a health weight is also of importane in that, being overweight will increase a persons risk to the disease. A study published last year suggested statins – cholesterol lowering drugs taken by millions of people to protect against heart disease – halve the risk of dementia by reducing the formation of fatty plaques in the brain.

As a result of a ever growing older population, it is estimated that there will be a significant increase in the condition. At present one in 20 people aged over 65 has signs of dementia, rising to one in five over 80. Over the next 50 years, the number affected is forecast to rise from 700,000 to 1.5 million because of the ageing of the population. But increasing obesity could double the incidence among the over-65s, raising the total to 2.5 million, according to the Alzheimer’s Society.

Thus the current cost of dementia to individuals, families and the state is estimated to be £17bn a year. A huge cost in every way.

There are currently three drugs available to treat the disease. Unfortunately, they can only supress the rate of progression. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence ( NICE ) will only prescribe to those considered with ‘moderate’ disease.

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