World Alzheimer’s Month September 2021
September 2021 is World Alzheimer’s Month, with World Alzheimer’s Day falling on September 21st. Launched in 2021, the World Alzheimer’s Month is an international campaign that runs annually and aims to raise awareness and challenge the stigma that surrounds dementia.
In the UK alone, an estimated 800,000 people currently experience the effects of dementia; 400,000 people that have dementia may not even realise it. Worldwide, the number of people currently living with some form of dementia is nearly 50 million. With such stark statistics it is vitally important to raise public awareness about dementia, so that more people can be diagnosed earlier and more effectively, giving themselves and those around them adequate time and preparation to come to terms with future circumstances.
In the UK, the Alzheimer’s Society are the leading charity and organisation campaigning for a world without dementia. The company began as the “Alzheimer’s Disease Society,” established in 1979 by two people with extensive experience caring for relatives with dementia. They recognised a pressing need to raise awareness of dementia, and to improve the quality of care, support, and information available for people living with dementia and those supporting them.
Within their first 12 months, the Society had attracted hundreds of members and supporters from across the care and medical sector. In 1980 the Society’s first branch office was established in Oxford, and throughout the 80’s and 90’s the company continued to grow and expand, with volunteer committees establishing branches across the length and breadth of England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. In 1999 members of the Society agreed to change the name of the charity to the “Alzheimer’s Society.”
The Alzheimer’s Society is one of the three founding members of the UK Dementia Research Institute, and the charity is committed to their vision of a world without dementia by changing the face of dementia research, providing up to date knowledge and advice, and improving best practice in dementia care and support. They also seek to influence the state and society to enable those affected by dementia to live as they wish to live.
In recent months, the Alzheimer’s Society has been calling on the UK government to “Cure the Care System,” asking that they provide quality social care that is free to access, no matter an individual’s location or circumstance. The ongoing Covid pandemic has brought to light and exacerbated an already broken social care system. Decades of underfunding and neglect have led to a care system that is difficult to access, costly, inadequate, and deeply unfair. Nearly 1 million people with dementia and their families are struggling to get the care they need and deserve.
What is Dementia?
Despite their name, the Alzheimer’s Society do not exclusively help people with Alzheimer’s Disease. There are many types of dementia, and the charity is devoted to improving the quality of life of all people affected by dementia, no matter the form it takes.
While commonly associated with the ageing process, dementia itself is not an age-related condition. Whilst prevalent in those over the age of 65, it can also affect people much younger. In the UK, over 17,000 people under the age of 65 are currently diagnosed with some form of dementia. 2/3 of people living with dementia are women.
Dementia is not a disease, rather it is the term used to characterise a variety of different diseases that affect the brain. It is a chronic and progressive problem arising from the abnormal function of the brain and its cognitive abilities. It can affect anyone, no matter their age or stage of life. It affects different parts of the brain and at differing speeds.
Types of Dementia
Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common form of dementia. Whilst still largely understood, it is believed to be caused by the abnormal build-up of proteins in and around brain cells. This accumulation over time leads to the shrinkage or death of brain cells, and the disruption of the brain’s normal activity. There is a noticeable decrease in the brain’s ability to send chemical messages or signals between cells. As brain mass decreases memory is usually the first cognitive function affected, though the first noticeable symptoms may be problems with language or vision.
Vascular Dementia is another common form of dementia that is triggered by blood clots or blockages within the blood vessels (vascular system) of the brain. Starved of blood and oxygen, surrounding nerve cells begin to die. Areas of dead brain tissue are called infarcts, so Vascular Dementia is often referred to as Multi-infarct Dementia. Vascular Dementia is often a result of other health problems, such as high blood pressure.
Frontotemporal Dementia is an uncommon form of dementia that primarily affects the front of the brain – primarily the areas responsible for personality, behaviour, and language. Unlike other forms of dementia, the onset of symptoms often occurs in younger people over the age of 40. The causes are still unknown, and over half the people diagnosed with this condition have no family history of dementia. In frontotemporal dementia, the frontal lobes of the brain become damaged and shrink (atrophy) resulting in brain impairment, and often extreme changes in behaviour and personality. Speech and movement may also be affected. Signs and symptoms of frontotemporal dementia progressively worsen over the course of years. Eventually, sufferers require 24-hour care.
Dementia with Lewy Bodies is a common form of dementia affecting 1 in 10 people living with dementia. It is often mis-diagnosed as Alzheimer’s. “Lewy bodies” (named after the German scientist who discovered them) are tiny deposits of protein that appear in nerve cells of the brain as neurons break down, inhibiting the brain’s ability to carry messages between nerve cells. Once connection is lost, the cells die. Common symptoms associated with the condition include hallucinations and visions, and physical difficulties such as a shuffling walk and the tendency to fall. Lewy bodies appearing in deep regions of the brain eventually lead to Parkinson’s Disease.
Korsakoff’s Syndrome is a brain disorder associated with prolonged heavy drinking and drug abuse. Though not strictly a form of dementia, people with this condition experience short term memory loss, and continued excesses of lifestyle can damage the brain to the point development of Vascular Dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease is likely to occur. Diagnoses of Korsakoff’s Syndrome is given after a period of 4-5 weeks of abstinence. Unlike other forms of dementia, Korsakoff’s can be cured.
Remember the person
Understandably, the diagnosis of dementia can be often devastating to the person concerned, as well as a concern for the close friends and family around them. The symptoms of dementia are progressive, and the time scale of deterioration can be impossible to predict; it can be years or mere months before symptoms become more advanced. On the positive side, many people with dementia can live full lives with little or no assistance. However, as dementia enters an advanced stage, a person may not be able to look after themselves without constant support. They may not be able to communicate or express themselves. Friends and family may no longer visit them, preferring to remember the person they were before the condition. That is why it is important to remember the person; they are still “there,” and they are more than their dementia.
Current circumstances have also brought to light the startling inadequacies sweeping the dementia care sector. Alongside a personal approach, more must be done moving forward to promote positive change regarding access, cost and fair treatment and support. Until things change a dementia diagnosis will continue to claim more than one life, as more families facing dementia feel its destructive effects.
However, it is important to remember that it does not have to be this way. With the right support people with dementia can live a good quality of life doing what matters most to them for as long as possible.
Able Training currently offer courses in Dementia Awareness and Dementia Awareness Train the Trainer. These courses are ideal for anyone who looks after someone with dementia on a regular basis, or for anyone who seeks a greater understanding of this condition. You can find more information about this training course on our website https://www.able-training.co.uk/training-course/dementia-awareness/