Elderly man and woman sitting on the couch next to each other laughing

Dementia - A widespread disease

Dementia is the umbrella term for diseases where brain damage leads to a gradual loss of memory, of one’s sense of orientation and one’s ability to reason. Because of the disastrous effects of the disease on individuals, early care planning for dementia patient is critical.

Dementia can be caused by neurodegenerative as well as non-neurodegenerative diseases of the brain. At advanced stages of the disease, brain failure in dementia is associated with a loss of the ability to discern reality, and with a loss of prior interests or of any emotions. At later stages, physical disability and loss of bodily functions may occur. 

Incidence of dementia

Due to increases in life expectancy, the number of dementia cases is on the rise. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the number of people with dementia worldwide is projected to double to over 70 million by 2030. In Kenya, the number of people with Dementia is expected to increase due to the increased life expectancy.  

The proportion of dementia patients in the population rises dramatically with age. While dementia rarely affects persons under the age of 65, around one third of persons over the age of 90 are affected by the disease. Women and men have about the same odds of developing the disease yet women account for about 70% of cases, mainly due to their higher life expectancy. 

Types of dementia

Although about 50 different types of dementia are known, Alzheimer's accounts for about 60% of all dementia cases and vascular dementia for 20% of the remaining ones. 

Alzheimer's disease is characterized by a gradual loss of function and eventual death of entire groups of nerve cells in the brain. At the same time a lack of endogenous substances, which ensure the exchange of information between brain cells, also occurs. 

Vascular dementia, on the other hand, is usually caused by arteriosclerotic changes or an occlusion of the brain vessels. This leads to reduced blood flow in the brain and ultimately to the death of small parts of the brain and eventually even whole brain units.  

Another form of dementia is secondary dementia, which is caused by non-brain related diseases, such as metabolic disorders, thyroid disorders or infectious diseases. 

Severe disability

Dementia is one of the principal causes of disability in older people worldwide. The disease has an enormous physical, psychological, social and economic impact on those affected, their families, carers and on society.  

Treatment and therapy of dementia

A cure for dementia is not yet possible but there are, however, two different therapeutic approaches. On the one hand, the use of medicine can help delay the loss of cognitive skills. On the other hand, non-medicinal forms of therapy such as memory training, art therapy, sports or games prevent isolation and help dementia patients preserve a high self-esteem.