For thousands of people across the country, performing the most basic tasks the rest of us carry out on a daily basis can be near-impossible. 

Those suffering from neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Dementia often do so in silence without access to resources to help them better understand the condition.

It is understood more than 90,000 people in Scotland live with the debilitating illness, around one in every 60 people.

The Herald has partnered with Alzheimer Scotland to launch a campaign aimed at ending the disparity in care costs between those footing the bill for specialist dementia nursing care and those suffering from other terminal illnesses.

If you or someone you know is struggling with dementia, worried about the symptoms or is simply looking for more information on living with the condition, read below for our introduction to the illness.

Alzheimer Scotland is Scotland’s national dementia charity. Their aim is to make sure nobody faces dementia alone. The charity provides support and information to people with dementia, their carers and families and campaign for the rights of people with dementia and fund vital dementia research. To find out more visit www.alzscot.org

What is dementia?

Dementia is not a natural part of the ageing process. It is caused by progressive neurological disease processes which affect the brain.

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The word ‘dementia’ describes a set of symptoms that may include memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving, language, sensory changes, and behaviour.

These changes are often small to start with, but over time become severe enough to affect daily life. A person with dementia may also experience changes in their mood or behaviour.

READ MORE: 'We need to change our attitudes towards people living with dementia'

Dementia is caused when the brain is damaged by diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease or a series of strokes. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, but not the only one.

The specific symptoms that someone with dementia experiences will depend on the parts of the brain that are damaged and the disease that is causing the dementia.

In Scotland, over 90,000 people have dementia. It is most common in older people but can affect people in their 40s and 50s or even younger. It is estimated that 20,000 people will be diagnosed with dementia in the coming year alone.

What are the different types of Dementia?

There are different diseases that cause dementia. It is possible to have more than one type of dementia at the same time:

  • Alzheimer’s disease - this is the most common kind of dementia. It is more common in older people, but it can also affect people in their 40s or 50s or even younger. With this kind of dementia, the brain cells are gradually damaged.
  • Vascular dementia
  • Alcohol-related dementia (including Korsakoff’s syndrome)
  • Lewy body dementia
  • Frontotemporal dementia
  • Posterior cortical atrophy.

What all of these illnesses have in common is that they damage brain cells.

What is the effect on memory?

There is no such thing as a ‘normal’ memory. Everyone is different. One person might never forget a name, while someone else is hopeless at putting names to faces. Don’t compare your memory with that of other people. It is normal to get a bit more forgetful.

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People become more concerned that forgetfulness could be a sign of something like dementia. However, it is important not to jump to conclusions. Confusion or forgetfulness does not mean someone has dementia; nor is dementia an inevitable part of growing older.

READ MORE: ‘People with dementia should get free care like anyone else with a progressive illness’

Many other conditions, such as infections, depression or the side effects of medicines can cause similar problems.

Perhaps you could talk to someone who knows you well to see if they have noticed any changes from what is normal for you. Other people may notice your memory problems before you do. If this happens, ask them about what they have noticed. This can be difficult, but it is best if you have a full picture of any changes that may have taken place.

How quickly can Dementia be diagnosed?

If you are worried about your memory, book an appointment to see your doctor. Ask for a double appointment to allow plenty of time to discuss your concerns. Your GP may refer you to a memory clinic or a specialist to better understand what has been happening. This may include more detailed testing of your memory, and sometimes other tests. 

READ MORE: Alzheimer's could be predicted by early brain scan

The earlier you get a diagnosis of dementia, the sooner you can start to come to terms with the illness, make plans for the future, and access support and services  that can help. It is important to avoid jumping to conclusions. Confusion or forgetfulness does not always mean someone has dementia; nor is dementia an inevitable part of growing older.

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Many other conditions, such as infections, depression or the side effects of medicines can cause similar problems. If you are worried, see your doctor.

You can also call Alzheimer Scotland’s Freephone 24 hour Dementia Helpline on 0808 808 3000 at any time or e-mail helpline@alzscot.org.

How do I start a converstaion about Dementia?

The worry that someone, perhaps even you, might be developing dementia is one of the hardest issues any of us may have to face. It is understandable that people may not want to talk about their concerns, or find it hard to do so, or may wrongly think that any changes they have noticed are just a normal part of getting older.

However, having a conversation about dementia – with partners, with family and friends, or with medical professionals – can make a huge difference to someone’s future quality of life. Talking about dementia makes it more likely that someone will get a diagnosis, which can open doors to a variety of support from the NHS, social services and organisations like Alzheimer Scotland.

READ MORE: The day centre charity helping people with dementia to live well

We all sometimes feel very proud and wish to be independent. Accepting help is not always easy and we don’t always recognise that we need a bit more assistance.

Ask your friend or family member to think about the things he or she might be finding more difficult than before. Keep a note of difficulties or changes you have noticed. You can sometimes use these as examples which could help them realise that things have changed. Be positive about how getting the right help can help people remain independent and live well or longer.

Contact Alzheimer Scotland’s Freephone 24-Hour Dementia Helpline for information about all aspects of dementia and local services in your area. The Helpline may also share information with you about getting a conversation started.

How do I access support after diagnosis?

Those who receive a diagnosis of dementia in Scotland are entitled to at least one year's post-diagnostic support from a named and trained person called a Dementia Link Worker (or similar job title).

READ MORE: A vision for dementia care in Scotland

The Link Worker will work with you, your partner and family, to help you all understand the diagnosis, learn to cope with symptoms, and live well with dementia, now and in the future. If you, or someone you know, has dementia, it may be hard to come to terms with the illness. Talk to someone about how you feel and what you can do to live as well as possible.

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For more information on how to access support following a diagnosis visit Alzheimer Scotland’s website.