Dementia is a progressive, degenerative disease of the brain. It mostly affects people above 60 years of age, though instances of people getting affected in mid-40s also exist. Apart from ageing, factors like injury to the brain can also lead to onset of dementia.
Dementia is primarily a gradual degeneration of the brain cells (neurons), an irreversible process, making it an incurable disease which is life-limiting. With passage of time it significantly impairs functioning of the brain.
According to estimates by United Nations, by 2030 every third individual will be over age 60 in several industrialized countries and, 120 years later, every third person in the world is projected to be over 60.
In 1947, when India became independent, life expectancy in India was around 32 years. In 2009 it rose to 65 years, marking a steady increase in elderly population. In other words, people vulnerable to crippling effects of dementia are steadily increasing. The significance of understanding this crippling disease therefore acquires importance.
Reason why brain cells degenerate is still a matter of research. Symptomatically the disease starts surfacing through intermittent memory loss which gradually becomes significant and noticeable over a period of time. Or else there could be a significant change in behavior or preferences of the person which only a close family member or friend can perceive due to their familiarity with the person’s history.
People living with Dementia mostly find it difficult to carry out the normal tasks of daily living. The gradual degeneration of their brain cells interferes in their basic abilities to even think, behave or perform daily activities.
Dementia is a decline of reasoning, memory, and other mental abilities (the cognitive functions).
This decline eventually impairs the ability to carry out everyday activities such as driving; household chores; and even personal care such as bathing, dressing, and feeding (often called activities of daily living, or ADLs).
Many people with dementia eventually become totally dependent on others for their care. Although people with dementia typically remain fully conscious, the loss of short- and long-term memory are universal.
According to WHO, dementia is a syndrome, usually of a chronic nature, caused by a variety of brain illnesses that affect memory, thinking, behaviour and ability to perform everyday activities. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia and possibly contributes to up to 70 per cent of cases.
World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that the number of people with dementia would double to 65.7 million by 2030. Lack of its diagnosis remains a major problem even in high-income countries, where only a fifth to half of cases are routinely recognized.