18 July, 2018

Dementia is NOT Just a Normal Part of Ageing


Dementia is a broad term used to describe the progressive decline in a person’s brain functioning leading to loss of memory, cognitive function, social skills and physical ability. It affects thinking, behaviour and the ability to perform everyday tasks. Although more common after the age of 65, dementia can also affect people at a younger age,

Symptoms of dementia are not limited to memory loss and confusion, but can also include:

  • Reduced efficiency / performance at work.
  • Personality change eg. becoming suspicious, fearful or disinhibited & inappropriate.
  • Lack of motivation + social withdrawal
  • Loss of ability to do everyday tasksg. preparing a meal, or difficulty planning ahead
  • Disorientation to time and placeg. becoming lost when driving
  • Misplacing thingsg. putting things in unexpected places
  • Problems with languageg. word finding difficulty

Dementia usually begins with mild cognitive impairment. At this stage there may be subtle memory loss without any of the other manifestations. The best time for diagnosis is in the initial stages, as early as possible. However, due to its subtle and gradual onset it is often not diagnosed until later in the disease process. Whilst the initial signs may not be apparent to many, if you or the people closest to you have any concerns, it is important to discuss these promptly with your doctor.

A first step is to rule out a potential reversible cause for the symptoms, such as nutritional deficiency, vascular or thyroid disease. Early diagnosis also allows access to optimal treatment and psychosocial support. It provides the opportunity for people to learn coping mechanisms and tips to better manage the symptoms of the disease, thus helping to preserve quality of life. Furthermore, whilst pharmacological treatment remains limited, the medications that are currently available for dementia are typically most effective and often only prescribed in the early phases of the disease.

Early diagnosis means that potential hazards may be averted when necessary such as stopping driving. It enables time to prepare for the future and empowers sufferers to participate in legal, financial and advanced-care planning decisions; making their wishes known to doctors and family members so that when they are no longer able to make such decisions themselves, care continues according to their wishes. Overall, these measures result in improved quality of life for the person with dementia as well as reduced stress and burden for family members, with more time to make the most of the present.

As always, prevention is better than cure. So whilst there is currently no cure for dementia, research has shown that leading a ‘brain-healthy’ life can reduce a person’s risk of developing dementia later. Being brain healthy is particularly important from middle age as this is when changes naturally start occurring in the brain.

5 preventative measures to optimise your brain health are:

  1. Be physically active
  2. Follow a healthy diet
  3. Look after your heart ie your cardiovascular health.
  4. Mentally stimulate your brain
  5. Enjoy social activity