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Kensington NeuroBlog 4 : Dementia. You are more likely to find a healthy brain in a healthy body

All of us forget things from time to time. Indeed, forgetting is vital for creativity, and for good mental health. Whilst it is quite normal to get halfway through a sentence and forget…mmmmm...what one was saying, some people have much more significant problems with memory. For these people, and those who care for them, dementia can be a devastating illness, robbing people of their memories, their personalities, and their very sense of self.

There are vmany different types of dementia. The commonest type is Alzheimer's disease, which affects nearly one million people in the UK . First described over 100 years ago by the psychiatrist Alois Alzheimer, it was the great classifier Emil Kraepelin who recognised it as a characteristic form of presenile dementia, causing loss of memory and other cognitive functions before the age of 65. Patients with Alzheimer's disease typically lose their working or short-term memory; they may remember things that happened years ago with absolutely clarity, but cannot remember what they had for breakfast or the contents of the conversation held only minutes ago. They may struggle to process visual information, get lost easily or find simple tasks such as dressing becoming difficult. Much is now known about the pathology of Alzheimer's disease, but as yet we only have a very limited limited number of treatments, and nothing that does more than temporarily slow down the profession of the disease.

There are other forms of dementia. Perhaps the second most common (and increasingly common in the western world) is vascular dementia. This condition is caused by the gradual accumulation of damage to the brain resulting from damage to the blood vessels that supply the brain, caused by high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, and so on. Sufferers sometimes have obvious 'mini-strokes', but in other cases the progression is more insidious and less obvious. There is often a significant overlap between Alzeheimer's and vascular dementia are.

Lewy body dementia is a striking type of dementia characterised by fluctuations, hallucinations, and physical symptoms similar to Parkinson's disease. Frontotemporal dementias often present with subtle changes in behaviour, or motivation, and can be mistaken for depression or other mental health disorders, in the early stages at least.

Can we do anything to stop ourselves getting dementia? We can't change our genes (yet), but there are important potentially treatable risk factors including high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, high cholesterol, excess alcohol intake, physical inactivity, sleep problems, head injuries and depression. The take-home message is that a you are more likely to find a healthy brain in a healthy body.

Further information about dementia can be found at the website of the Alzheimer's Society. If you are concerned about memory problems, then you should see your GP, or arrange a screening clinical assessment with Dr Weatherall at The Medical Chambers Kensington.

By Dr Mark Weatherall Consultant Neurologist