Dementia is a general term for a group of brain disorders involving cognitive impairment. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, followed by vascular dementia. It affects mainly elderly people. In Singapore, the prevalence rate of dementia in people above 65 years is 6.2%. It is an illness that causes significant distress to both the patient and his caregivers.
Factors like high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes and lack of physical exercise increase the risk of developing the most common types of dementia. Thus, there is evidence that maintaining a healthy lifestyle and keeping vascular risk factors under control can reduce the risk of dementia. Keeping mentally and socially active can also lower the risk of developing dementia.
Dementia is a condition whereby the brain cells die faster than normal. In Alzheimer’s disease, this is caused by abnormal proteins that damage brain cells. In vascular dementia, brain cells die as a result of a series of strokes due to blockages of blood vessels in the brain.
There is no single test for dementia. A diagnosis is usually made by taking a history from the patient and his family, doing some tests (blood tests and/or brain imaging) to exclude other causes of the symptoms and assessing his mental abilities.
Dementia is a progressive disease. Treatments can slow the progression, but unfortunately they are unable to reverse or cure the illness. Medications can help stabilize the levels of chemicals in the brain, which may improve some of the symptoms of dementia. Psychotherapy can help with feelings of loss, depression or anxiety. Education and support of caregivers is also a crucial aspect of holistic dementia care.