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dementia definition medical

The Alzheimer’s Society defines dementia as:

The loss of intellectual functions (such as thinking, remembering, and reasoning) of sufficient severity to interfere with a person’s daily functioning. (Alzheimer’s Society 2006a).

Dementia is not a disease itself but a group of symptoms that may include changes in personality, mood and behaviour. Dementia is irreversible when caused by disease or injury but may be reversible when caused by drugs, alcohol, hormone or vitamin imbalances or depression.

The term ‘dementia’ tends to raise a variety of thoughts and feelings for people.

Some may be based on experience, either personal or professional, and some on common myths and misunderstandings. The important thing is to understand the different ways in which dementia can develop and the impact it may have upon the individual and those close to them.

For too long, people with dementia were seen as not having the ability to make decisions about their future and so have often been excluded from the diagnosis and treatment, or care, plans. The advent of drugs such as Aricept and Exelon has encouraged earlier assessment and given greater hope to people with dementia of the possibility that the progress of dementia may be slowed. If people with dementia are to receive high-quality care, it is important to develop an understanding of the ways in which information, respect and communication affect the care given to and received by people with dementia and their families.

Dementia affects 750,000 people in the UK, and it is estimated that this will increase to 870,000 by 2010, and to 1.8 million by 2050 (Alzheimer’s Society 2006b). The rise in the number of people with dementia is not confined to the UK; it is happening worldwide. There are 18 million people across the world with dementia, and it is estimated that by 2025 this number will increase to 34 million (Alzheimer’s Society 2006b). Seventy-one per cent will be in countries of poor or middle income, such as some of those in Africa and Asia. This increase is directly associated with the ageing population, as the incidence of dementia increases with age. In people over the age of 65 years, one in 20 is affected by dementia, increasing to 1 person in five over the age of 80 years (Alzheimer’s Society 2006b).

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