What is Dementia?
This post is a day late because I forgot to bring my laptop home from work - just walked out of the office without it. I didn't realise until I was home and ready to use it again. There is a fabulous Alzheimer's Australia public awareness video about the difference between forgetting something once, and forgetting it often. Dementia is a challenging disease to recognise because it most often occurs in older people, and as a community we have come to accept that forgetting things is a part of growing older. But there is a difference between cognitive challenges that are the result of normal ageing, and cognitive problems that are the result of a chronic disease like dementia.
Dementia is an umbrella term used to refer to different types of specific dementias. Each type of dementia impacts individuals in different ways. For example, Alzheimer's Disease (AD) usually results in a slow progressive decline in function and memory; whereas Vascular Dementia usually results in a step wise decline in function and memory, with sharp drops at particular points. There are over 100 different types of dementia.
Because of the many different types of dementia, and the different signs and symptoms, it can be very hard to pick up if a family member or friend is beginning to show signs of this disease. Broadly speaking, dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life. Dementia, as a mental illness, can often be seen as embarrassing, and people may be slow to seek help if they think they have a problem. Mostly dementia occurs in older people, but many people younger than 65 have dementia (some even as young as 30). This is an important challenge from a public health perspective, as there are some things that can be done to support people, and slow down the progression of the disease if they get help very early on. Even though dementia doesn't have a cure (yet), there appears to be some benefits in seeking help and getting a diagnosis. Most importantly, it may not be dementia, it might be something that can be treated. Understanding what is happening to someone in your family (i.e. knowing that they have dementia, and are not just being stubborn) can make a big difference to the person with dementia, and their family.
If you would like to find out more about reducing your risk of dementia, there are several things that you can do now that research has shown will make a difference.
- Look after your heart;
2. Be physically active;
3. Mentally challenge your brain;
4. Follow a healthy diet; and
5. Enjoy social activity.
It is also important to prevent head injury (wear your bike helmet) and to manage depression proactively (including adopting a lifestyle which reduces the likelihood of depression returning).
Dementia is not a normal part of ageing. It can't be cured, but you can reduce your risk of getting dementia. You can also be aware of the health of those around you, and if you think there is a problem, encourage them to see a health professional for more advice. Dementia is a challenging and deadly disease. We need to empathize and support individuals with dementia and their families, and help make our community both dementia aware and dementia friendly.
Ng, K., M. Martin-Khan, M. Farrow, E. Beattie, and N. Pachana, The Implications of the Timing of Diagnosis of Dementia on the Dementia Caregiver. Advances in Alzheimer's Disease, 2016. 5: p. 143-154.
Travers, C.M., M.G. Martin-Khan, and D.C. Lie, Dementia risk reduction in primary care: what Australian initiatives can teach us. Australian health review : a publication of the Australian Hospital Association, 2009. 33(3): p. 461-6.
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