What is dementia?
Dementia is a collective term used to describe a range of progressive neurological disorders affecting the brain.
Three in ten Australians over the age of 85 have some form of dementia. Worldwide, dementia affects more than 47 million people.
Symptoms include memory impairment, confused thinking, behavioural changes and reduced ability to perform basic, everyday tasks.
The most common for of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, accounting for about 60-70% of people diagnosed over the age of 65.
Is dementia a normal part of aging?
Dementia is not a normal part of ageing, but increased age is a significant risk factor.
While dementia is more common in the population over the age of 65, dementia can affect young people in their 20s. Currently, women have a higher incidence of Alzheimer’s disease, while vascular dementia is more common in men.
What causes Alzheimer’s disease?
There are many different forms of dementia, with different clinical presentations and underlying pathology.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, yet to date, the exact cause of the condition remains unknown. However, researchers have identified two specific proteins that are involved in the formation of a particular pathology within the brain, commonly referred to as plaques (Amyloid beta) and tangles(tau). As the buildup of this pathology occurs, neuronal (brain cells) death occurs, and the brain begins to shrink. Researchers have more recently discovered that this underlying pathological process can begin up to 20 years before any clinical symptoms become apparent.
What are the early signs of dementia?
Changes in memory speed and processing are common in older age. However, if the changes start to impact on the person’s activities of daily living, this may be an indication of early dementia. Many people delay investigating changes in memory function due to a fear of dementia. However, there are reversible and controllable factors that may lower the risk or even prevent dementia.
Some of the common symptoms that should be investigated include:
- Changes in memory ability
- Reduced concentration
- Decreased participation in hobbies previously enjoyed
- Reduced problem solving skills
- Personality changes
- Decreased ability to carry out everyday tasks
Why should changes be investigated?
A number of conditions produce similar symptoms to dementia, including depression, sleep deprivation, stress, vitamin and hormone deficiencies, infections and other brain conditions.
A comprehensive health review can help to identify issues that may be reversible or modifiable.
If the changes in brain function or memory are considered to be more advanced or progressive, a comprehensive diagnostic assessment will be required to help define the diagnosis.
If a diagnosis of dementia is determined, it is critical that treatment targeted at slow progression is offered at the earliest possible stage to optimise function for as long as possible.
We will inform you of any clinical trials targeting the underlying condition, which may be of interest, while providing you with information about other education, support and services available.
KaRa MINDS offers diagnostic and support services for patients and families. Click here to find out more.
Can you prevent dementia?
Research suggests that the risk of dementia can be influenced by lifestyle choices.
Giving up smoking, eating a healthy diet, regular exercise, limiting alcohol, ensuring you are socially active, controlling blood pressure and cholesterol, all have potential for lowering the risk of developing dementia.
KaRa MINDS offers diet and lifestyle advice to help reduce the risk of dementia. Click here to find out more.