Why does one contract dementia? What are the symptoms?

A World Health Organisation report states that over 55 million people worldwide suffer the dementia condition, a condition that obliterates the memory of sufferers. With persons living to an older age, this condition is expected to continue to increase.

In Malta there are about 7,200 persons suffering this condition and it is estimated this number will have increased to 13,000 by the year 2050.

It is also estimated that for every person suffering this condition there are a further four persons directly affected, mainly family members and therefore the effect are more widespread.

It is not quite known why a person suffers from dementia. Professor Charles Scerri is a teacher and researcher in dementia studies and he explained there are situations that risk a person contracting this condition and nothing can be done about it. These include age and gender.

He said this is a condition that affects more women than men. If there is a case in the family this increases the risk of suffering the condition in the future.

Other risks are heart disease, high cholesterol and high blood pressure; in addition one has to avoid frequent blows to the head, a bad diet, a lack of mental and physical exercise, alcohol and smoking.

Asked how a person becomes aware of suffering a dementia condition, Professor Scerri said among the first symptoms where a person cannot remember what they have just consumed but remember precisely what they did in their childhood.

He explained this happens because the first zone liable to dementia attack is that of absorbing new information and as this gradually degenerates, it will eventually no longer exist and therefore new information is not absorbed by the mind and therefore cannot be remembered.

For these reasons persons with dementia should preferably remain resident in their own homes because a change of residence will not be absorbed such as where the bathroom is or how to make a cup of tea.

Another symptom is language communication, such as when a person does not finish their sentence or otherwise asks the same question again and again. Persons with dementia may also worry how they can go about their daily activities like washing or tying shoe laces. Professor Scerri recommended that when these symptoms are noted this may not necessarily be dementia but professional help should be sought.

The dementia helpline is 1771 and guidance wil be given while a person may also resort to their private doctor to be recommended to a clinic that will carry out further detailed tests.

Professor Scerri said the latest cases of dementia cannot be cured but over and above medicines there are other services that help provide a better quality of life such as day centres where appropriate events are organised.