Dementia isn’t one specific disease, but instead a collection of symptoms that are caused by disorders affecting the brain. Dementia affects thinking, behaviour and the ability to perform everyday tasks. This can interfere with the person’s social and working life.
According to Dementia Australia, dementia is now the second leading cause of death among Australians. It is estimated that in 2018, more than 425 000 Australians are living with dementia.
Dementia can affect people of all ages but is more common after the age of 65. Three in 10 people over the age of 85 and almost one in 10 people over 65 have dementia. It is also more common in females.
There are a number of different types of dementia caused by different diseases of the brain but the most common are Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and vascular dementia. AD makes up around two-thirds of all cases of dementia and occurs when clumps of protein called beta-amyloid (known as amyloid plaques) along with bundles of twisted filaments (called neurofibrillary tangles) prevent communication between nerve cells in the brain and cause them to die.
Vascular dementia, on the other hand, is caused by damage to the blood vessels in the brain and often occurs following a stroke, or several mini-strokes (known as transient ischaemic attacks or TIA’s).
The symptoms of dementia can vary from one person to the next, but those who are affected often have difficulty solving problems and controlling their emotions, and may experience personality changes, agitation, delusions or hallucinations. Unfortunately, it is usually progressive so symptoms typically get worse over time.
Dementia Warning Signs
According to Dementia Australia, common warning signs of dementia include:
- Recent memory loss that affects job skills
- Difficulty performing familiar tasks
- Problems with language, such as forgetting simple words or substituting inappropriate words
- Disorientation of time and place including becoming lost in familiar places
- Poor or decreased judgement
- Problems with abstract thinking
- Misplacing things
- Changes in mood or behaviour, including rapid swings in mood for no apparent reason
- Loss of initiative
If you, or someone you love, are experiencing these symptoms, it’s important to make an appointment with your doctor for further investigations.
The good news is that dementia isn’t an inevitable part of ageing and there are many things we can do to reduce the risk. In fact, Dementia Australia has developed a program called Your Brain Matters which outlines the steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing dementia. Based on scientific research showing that making some key lifestyle changes can reduce your risk of developing dementia in later life, the program shows you the five steps you can take to maximise your brain health.
Five Steps to Maximise Brain Health
- Looking after your heart by keeping a check on your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose levels, maintaining a healthy body weight and not smoking.
- Being physically active – regular physical activity is associated with better brain function and a reduced risk of cognitive decline and dementia.
- Mentally challenging your brain – this helps to helps to build new brain cells and strengthen connections between them.
- Following a healthy diet – one that is low in saturated fat but contains healthy fats (from foods like fish, nuts, seeds and olive oil) and contains plenty of antioxidant-rich fruit and vegetables. If you drink alcohol, this should be in moderation.
- Enjoying social activity – social engagement has been shown to benefit our brain health and this is even more so when combined with physical activity, such as dancing, playing a team sport or taking a walk with a friend.
You can find out more by visiting Your Brain Matters
For more information:
To find out more about dementia and how to reduce your risk, call the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500 or visit Dementia.org