Early signs of dementia…why people fear to seek help

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Couple worried about early signs of dementia

Many people showing early signs of dementia don’t seek medical help because they fear being thought mad or or that their partner will leave them.

There are several reasons but it mainly comes down to fear: people are anxious what it would mean if they were found to have dementia, and how their friends and family would react. Some even fear their husband or wife would abandon them.

A survey carried out by the Alzheimer’s Society in the UK found that over half of people (56%) admit putting off seeking a dementia diagnosis for a year or more.

Half (52%) of the study respondents also said if they experienced early symptoms such as confusion or difficulty recalling recent events, they’d wait until this had reached a point where it was affecting their work and personal life, before speaking to their doctor about it.

Almost two-thirds (62%) said they felt a diagnosis would mean their life was over. Additionally, 58% were worried that getting dementia would stop them enjoying things they usually enjoy, 45% think they’d instantly have to stop driving, 22% fear they’d lose their partner or friends, while 49% admitted they’d worry people would think they were ‘mad’.

Fear factor of ‘what will dementia do to me’

As the charity notes, the findings highlight there are still several myths and possibly inaccurate preconceptions around the condition. Once the early signs of dementia set in, people can start to panic and believe their lives are effectively over. This is not the case.

An Alzheimer’s Society said: “Too many people are in the dark about dementia – many feel that a dementia diagnosis means someone is immediately incapable of living a normal life, while myths and misunderstanding continue to contribute to the stigma and isolation that many people will feel.

“We know that dementia is the most-feared health condition of our time and there’s no question that it can have a profound and devastating impact on people, their family and friends – but getting a timely diagnosis will enable people with dementia to live as well as possible.

“We want everyone to know that Alzheimer’s Society is here for anyone affected by the condition and there are lots of ways we can help you.”

There are several Alzheimer societies and support groups in most countries across the world so make sure to google and visit their websites to get good and accurate information as soon as symptoms of dementia occur.

Signs of the onset of dementia

Around 850,000 people in the UK are currently living with a dementia diagnosis, and experts expect this figure to reach a million by 2025, and two million by 2051. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, which mostly affects over-65s and slightly more women than men.

There are 55,000 patients in Ireland, while in the United States it’s staggering 5.7 million.

There’s currently no cure and Alzheimer’s is progressive, usually starting with mild memory problems which worsen over time, along with increased confusion, disorientation, possible low mood and personality changes, and difficulty with speech, language and carrying out everyday tasks.

The disease can also hugely impact loved ones and close family members, who often become carers.

The nature of symptoms can be deeply distressing and isolating, but there are often many practical, and financial, factors to be considered too. Knowing where to turn for support can be confusing and an extra stress if you’re not sure where to start.

New drugs and treatments are being developed

Several major pharmaceutical companies are involved in international clinical trials around new drugs that will hopefully delay the onset and progress of Alzheimer’s symptoms.

Dr MacSweeney, Re:Cognition Health’s CEO and medical director, says it’s hoped the drugs will work by “either reducing the production of beta-amyloid protein, or increasing clearance of the amyloid protein clumps or plaques that get deposited in the brain”.

This potentially marks a key turning point, as current Alzheimer’s treatments can only mask symptoms, rather than addressing the cause, specifically reducing amyloid and tau proteins, which are responsible for the cognitive brain cell damage associated with the disease.

Though it’s still a long way off and uncertain at this stage, MacSweeney says the hope is that one day, we’ll be able to screen people for dementia, and treat them before it progresses – similar to how we are currently able to screen people for conditions like high cholesterol.

“Those found to have high cholesterol are advised to take a statin – to reduce, or keep under control, cholesterol, so as to reduce the risk of developing problems like heart disease, rather than wait until somebody has already developed severe heart disease, when it may be too late,” she said.

“We can take the same approach with high blood sugar, and high blood pressure – screening and then treating early to prevent problems further down the line. Hopefully we will eventually be able to do the same with dementia.”

It’s easy to confuse perfectly natural memory lapses with the early signs of dementia but if symptoms persist, the advice is to seek medical help as soon as possible.

For more information:

Alzheimer’s Society in the UK

Alzheimer Society of Ireland

Alzheimer’s Foundation of America

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