I recently watched a documentary by actor Ross Kemp, called ‘Living with Dementia’ about different people who suffer from dementia and how it effects their families. It was recommended to me by my mum, she knew it would be something of interest to me as my Nan has Vascular Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. This inspired me to do a little more digging into dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Dementia isn’t a disease, it is a term that describes a set of symptoms such as memory loss, confusion and issues with problem-solving. There are different diseases which cause dementia, Alzheimer’s being the most common. Other conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease and brain injuries can also cause dementia.
Alzheimer’s is a disease caused by a build up of proteins around brain cells that are abnormal. When the brain cells become affected there are less neurotransmitters and over time, certain areas of the brain will shrink. Age, genetics, Down’s Syndrome and risk factors that are often associated with cardiovascular disease can increase the risk of someone getting Alzheimer’s.
The dementia my nan suffers from is Vascular Dementia. This essentially means she experiences memory loss and cognitive problems, but this is as a result of a lack of blood flow to her brain which causes brain cells, responsible for certain cognitive processes, to die. Vascular Dementia is the second most common cause of dementia, after Alzheimer’s. This can be developed after having a stroke, fortunately she didn’t have one of those. Due to my Nan also having Alzheimer’s disease, she can be said to have mixed dementia. Alzheimer’s and Vascular Dementia are the most common combination for mixed dementia. Symptoms of mixed dementia differ between patients, and often one form will dominate. For example, I find that my nan suffers from more symptoms of Alzheimer’s than Vascular Dementia.
Alzheimer’s patients can be prescribed with medications known as Cholintesterase inhibitors. Someone suffering from Alzheimer’s often has lower levels of acetylcholine, which helps nerve cells to communicate. The inhibitors prevent the enzyme acetylcholinesterase breaking down the acetylcholine, increasing its levels in the brain. This doesn’t cure the disease but can help with symptoms in the mild/moderate stages of Alzheimer’s. Unfortunately there is still no cure for the disease. However, living a healthy lifestyle can reduce risk.
As difficult as Alzheimer’s and Dementia can be for those who suffer from it, it has a much wider impact on their loved ones. When watching the documentary by Ross Kemp, I found there was a common theme amongst those caring for those with the disease, and that was guilt. Dementia is an exceptionally frustrating set of symptoms that can cause people to lose patience, which consequently leads to an immense feeling of guilt. Carers can also feel guilty for enjoying themselves and for choosing to put the patient into a home. Although this is often a choice in the best interests of their loved one, it can feel as though you are abandoning them when they need you the most. Not only do people feel guilty, but watching their partner, parent or even child suffer from dementia can be heartbreaking and often people feel as though they’re losing the person they love.
Another feature of the documentary, was the story of a young girl who suffers from Sanfilippo Syndrome. This is a metabolic disorder which is caused by the lack of an enzyme that normally breaks down a sugar molecule called ‘heparan sulfate’ which is stored in the lysosome of cells. Sanphilipo is a part of childhood dementia and causes hyperactivity, loss of speech, intellectual disability and many other symptoms. In the first stage of the disease symptoms are mild, but behaviour becomes increasingly difficult and the patient’s lifespan is decreased significantly. Dementia is often associated with adults and so finding out about a child suffering from it was saddening and made me realise that Dementia effects so many more people than I first thought.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s is definitely something I fear. My great grandma and nan have both had the disease, and I do wonder if it’s in my genetics and it’s something I could develop as I grow older, but there could be a cure or more effective treatment by then. Who knows?
During this lockdown, I wanted to do something worthwhile and realised I could put the incredible amount of baking I have been doing to some good use. Alzheimer’s society host a Cupcake Day each year, and I decided to get involved. I baked enough cakes to start a bakery and also reached out to the local neighbours. I had a big cake sale outside my home and raised £480 for Alzheimer’s Society. I was incredibly proud and even surprised, £480 is a lot of money for some cake! My Nan lives quite far from me, but she was incredibly happy when I told her over the phone.
Alzheimer’s and Dementia may not have a cure just yet, but there’s no reason why you can’t do some research into the condition, or raise some money and know that it’s going to benefit such an important cause!