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Every year, the Alzheimer’s Society holds a Dementia Awareness Week. This year, it will take place in England, Northern Ireland and Wales from 20-26 May.

Just before Christmas last year, a national campaign to raise awareness of the early signs and symptoms of dementia was launched by Care Services Minister Paul Burstow. In a press release he said: “People are afraid of dementia and, rather than face the possibility that someone we love has the condition, we can wrongly put memory problems down to ‘senior moments’.”

Dementia risk factors highlighted

The campaign featured in television, radio and print advertisements, with the aim of targeting family and friends of people at risk of dementia, as these are likely to be the first to witness the signs and so can encourage their loved one to see a GP.

Why is there a need for an increase in awareness? Well, shocking statistics from the Department of Health reveal that six out of ten people with dementia in England go undiagnosed. The government says that this means that almost 400,000 people could be going without the support the NHS and social care services can offer.

Age-related memory loss

In addition, most doctors had believed that age-related memory loss started around the age of 60. However, research published in the British Medical Journal in January suggests that this is not correct and that the early signs of cognitive decline can begin as early as 45. The study was led by Archana Singh-Manoux from University College London and the Centre for Research in Epidemiology and Population Health in France.

Researchers observed 5,198 men and 2,192 women over a ten-year period from 1997. They were all civil servants in London aged between 45 and 70. Participants’ cognitive functions were assessed three times over the study period. Individuals were tested for memory, vocabulary and aural and visual comprehension skills. After differences in level of education were taken into account, the results showed that cognitive scores declined in all categories except vocabulary, and there was faster decline in older people.

The findings also reveal that, over the ten-year study period, there was a 3.6 per cent decline in mental reasoning for both men and women aged 45-49, and a 7.4 per cent decline in women and 9.6% decline in men aged 65-70.

The authors of the report say that this is the earliest evidence of cognitive decline that may lead to dementia and it suggests dementia or Alzheimer’s could take decades to develop. Can anything be done to stop this early memory loss? Dr Simon Ridley, head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK said on BBC News that: “Although we don’t yet have a sure-fire way to prevent dementia, we do know that simple lifestyle changes – such as eating a healthy diet, not smoking, and keeping blood pressure and cholesterol in check – can all reduce the risk of dementia.”

The research makes it clear that efforts to prevent dementia may need to start in adults as young as 45. With this in mind, it is never too early to ensure your affairs are in order, including addressing questions such as who will make decisions about your health and finances if you are no longer able to do so yourself. Making a Lasting Power of Attorney is the only way you can guarantee that the right person is appointed to make these decisions for you at the right time.

For more information about Lasting Powers of Attorney or if you have concerns about the finances of someone who already suffers with dementia, please contact Tamara Hasson, Head of Private Client Services, on 0117 394 5030.