Dementia

When forgetfulness takes over

The term 'dementia' stands for a whole group of disorders, in which there is an abnormal decline in cognitive ability. A typical early symptom of all forms of dementia is forgetfulness. As the disease progresses, orientation is also often affected. Speech impairment and personality changes follow until the sufferer is incapable of managing any of the routine tasks of daily living. 

The most common form of dementia: Alzheimer´s

Medically, dementia is divided into primary and secondary categories.
In primary dementia, neurodegenerative or vascular changes are evident in the brain:

  • The most common neurodegenerative disorder is Alzheimer´s dementia, in which nerve cells in the brain die. Around 65 percent of all (primary and secondary) dementia disorders are of this kind.
  • Vascular dementias constitute five percent of cases. They arise when the blood circulation to the brain is disrupted, as in a stroke.
Forgetfulness: a typical early symptom of all forms of dementia

Although an exact percentage distribution for the different dementias cannot be determined owing to the variety of combined forms occurring, secondary dementias can be said to make up 30 percent of cases. These dementias are triggered by underlying disorders outside the brain, such as thyroid dysfunction, diabetes, depressions or chronic infections.

In contrast to the neurodegenerative and vascular dementias, some secondary dementias are curable if the underlying disorder is discovered early enough and treated effectively. Thus, the earlier the primary, underlying disorder is accurately diagnosed, the greater the chance of successful treatment.

Dementia has many diverse causes

The onset of dementia can be triggered by many factors. Beside the genetic risk factors, there are other contributory factors that can be positively influenced by a healthy lifestyle, i.e. sufficient intellectual and physical activity, and weight watching so as to lower the risk of dementia following on the heels of high blood pressure or diabetes.

Around 1.3 million people in Germany suffer from dementia

Already around 1.3 million people, mainly elderly or ageing, suffer from dementia in Germany. Owing to their higher life expectancy, 70 percent of those affected are women and only 30 percent men. The number of sufferers is increasing, in line with demographic change. It is very rare for dementias to set in before the age of 65, but within the age bracket of 65 to 69 years, estimates show that one to five percent of the population in Germany suffer from dementia. The prevalence roughly doubles every five years, so that among the over 90-year-olds, every third person is affected.

Sources

  • Demenz-Report 2011 des Berlin-Instituts für Bevölkerung und Entwicklung
  • Internetauftritt der Deutschen Alzheimer Gesellschaft
  • Schneider, Frank: Demenz. Der Ratgeber für Patienten und Angehörige. Verstehen. Therapieren. Begleiten. Herbig Gesundheitsratgeber 2012