DEMENTIA – a set of symptoms caused by brain disease or injury – affects 850,000 people in the UK.
By Lauren Clark
Key signs include memory loss, difficulties with tasks and problems with language.
However, it can also affect sufferers psychologically.
Many experience changes in personality and mood, and even depression.
However, new research has revealed that the umbrella of behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD) may be hiding a serious anxiety disorder.
In a review published in the journal Progress in Neurology & Psychiatry, scientists discovered that some patients may experience delayed-onset post-traumatic stress disorder.
Commonly abbreviated to PTSD, it’s a condition caused by very stressful, frightening or distressing events, according to the NHS.
However, the researchers found that it’s often misdiagnosed as being BPSD.
In the review, they reveal three cases where PTSD symptoms were experienced by dementia patients long after the original traumatic event.
This may be something that happened earlier in their life, but that is only beginning to be relived now.
Indeed, this could be through nightmares and flashbacks, and sufferers may experience feelings of isolation, irritability and guilt.
As well as re-experiencing something, PTSD symptoms include avoidance and emotional numbing, seeming ‘on edge’ and self-destructive behaviour, such as drug or alcohol misuse.
This review is particularly important since the anxiety disorder is usually associated with working-age adults, and isn’t often diagnosed in the elderly.
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Researchers believe that, in the early stages of dementia, recognising early life trauma may enable patients to access psychological therapy prior to significant cognitive decline.
However, in patients with more advanced dementia, an awareness of how earlier trauma can have an impact may help doctors differentiate between delayed PTSD and BPSD.
Dr. Tarun Kuruvilla, senior author, said: “Every patient with dementia has a unique narrative, which if captured in the earlier stages of the disease, enables clinicians and their families to understand the origin of their distress.
“Therefore, it is important to look for a history of previous trauma in patients with BPSD as this could be due to delayed onset PTSD.”