According to a recent large study on the attitudes of people towards dementia, 66% of people believe that dementia is caused by the normal ageing process and 95% of the respondents believe they too will develop dementia at some point in their lives.
The study was the largest of its type so far, with approximately 70,000 respondents across 155 countries and territories of the world. The study encompassed four groups, concentrating on people living with dementia, carers, healthcare practitioners and the general public.
The study also suggests that caring for people living with dementia takes a toll on the carers as 60% of carers reported that their social life had suffered as a result of their caring responsibilities and 50% of carers suffered health-related issues.
Just like every other disease, dementia affects both the psychological and physiological well-being of the patient. Noting these changes in time and seeking proper medical attention helps manage and retard its progress. Unfortunately, with dementia, the disease may go unnoticed for a long period of time.
Some of the psychological changes include:
Mood swings: (e.g. depression, agitation).
Psychosis: this may include delusions- (false beliefs), hallucination – (seeing or hearing things that are not actually there).
Sleep disturbance: this may also occur due to the medication they are taking and age.
Repetitive behaviour: they may ask the same question several times, etc.
Forgetfulness: they may forget they have eaten, they may misplace items, not remember the names of people close to them, become disorientated and not sure of where they are, forget that they have a partner and other memory-related problems.
Some of the physiological changes they may experience include:
Weight gain/loss: they may forget to eat which may lead to weight loss or they keep eating because they forgot they have eaten, which may lead to weight gain.
Limited Mobility: they may have to have their mobility curtailed. This may be to prevent them from wandering away and getting lost, or from hurting themselves or hurting someone else or breaking things due to aggression.
Communication: because dementia affects the part of the brain responsible for learning and language, dementia patients may suffer a reduction of words to express themselves. They may find it difficult to make complete meaningful sentences.
Caring for a dementia patient can be quite daunting, but understanding the needs of dementia patients and maintaining a positive approach can help ensure reasonable care for both the carer and the patient.
There is a much greater need to educate the general public about dementia to improve the attitudes of the general public to the problem. This is especially important in Africa and Asia and should be a matter of importance to the authorities involved: the national health and caring organisations and the WHO. When the attitudes improve then the quality of life of the sufferers can improve as the sufferers are no longer stigmatised and can be treated with more respect and sympathy.