What is dementia and can I get it?
The short answer to who can get dementia is, of course, anybody! It affects all people in all societies across the world. Rich and poor, fat and thin, all ethnicities, all religions, men and women, tall and short, famous and obscure. No one is exempt from the risk.
There are currently around 850,000 people in the UK with dementia and this number is projected to rise to 1.6 million by 2040. Across the world, that number is over 50 million and that is projected to rise over the same period to almost 90 million.
Dementia mainly affects people over the age of 65 (one in 14 people in this age group have dementia) and the likelihood of developing dementia increases significantly with age.
However, dementia can affect younger people too. There are currently more than 42,000 people in the UK under 65 living with dementia.
What are the risk factors for dementia?
If your older family member has developed dementia, it is only natural to wonder what the risk of developing dementia is. Although it is not possible to say for certain, a doctor may outline the factor(s) which might contribute to developing dementia. In most cases, it will be a mixture of risk factors, some of them potentially avoidable and some of them not.
How can I tell if I have dementia?
If you are becoming a bit more forgetful, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have dementia.
Many people notice that their thinking gets a bit slower, or their memory becomes a bit less reliable as they get older. They may for example forget a friend’s name occasionally. These symptoms can also be a sign of stress, depression or certain physical illnesses, rather than dementia.
What are the symptoms of dementia?
There are a number of symptoms that may point to dementia if they start affecting your daily life. We list them below.
- struggle to remember recent events (such as what you have had for breakfast), although you can easily recall things that happened in the past,
- find it hard to follow conversations or programmes on TV,
- forget the names of friends or everyday objects,
- struggle to recall things you have heard, seen or read recently,
- regularly lose the thread of what you are saying,
- leave objects in unusual places (eg keys in a bathroom cabinet),
- have problems thinking and reasoning,
- feel anxious, depressed or angry,
- feel confused even when in a familiar environment or get lost on familiar journeys,
- find that other people start to comment on your forgetfulness.
Is dementia inherited?
Scientists are still investigating how dementia might run in the family. In a small number of people, certain types of dementia are inherited as a single gene that directly causes the disease. People with one of these genes will usually get dementia before the age of 65, classified as early-onset dementia.
Everyone else will inherit a combination of genes that increases or decreases their risk of developing dementia in much less direct ways.
What should I do if I am concerned about dementia?
If you are concerned that your or your loved one’s memory is getting noticeably worse, please discuss your concerns with your GP.