Before the beginning of the 20th century, dementia was relatively rare, due to the fact that many people didn’t live long enough to be affected. However, as a result of our increasing life expectancy, in excess of 320,000 people in Australia are now living with dementia. One in four Australians over the age of 85 suffers from dementia.
There is currently no known cure and it is now the second leading cause of death in Australia.
The numbers are alarming, but for most of us, even though we all generally know someone who suffers from dementia, we know very little about it and the terminology can be confusing.
Dementia is not one specific disease. It is an all-encompassing term for a number of neurological conditions which affects a person’s thinking, their behavior and their ability to perform everyday tasks.
There are over 100 diseases which may result in dementia.
Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common form of dementia and affects close to 70% of all sufferers. Alzheimer’s damages the brain, resulting in impaired memory, thinking and behaviour.
Vascular Disease is the second most common cause of dementia and is in broad terms, dementia associated with poor blood circulation to the brain.
Alcohol Related Dementia can result from many years of excessive alcohol consumption leading to brain damage that produces symptoms of dementia. This is one form which we all should be able to avoid.
At one time or another, I am sure many of us have suffered from the typical symptoms associated with alcohol related dementia: jerky eye movement, double vision, loss of muscle co-ordination, poor balance, staggering and confusion.
Some of the more identifiable early signs of dementia can be very subtle and may not be immediately obvious:
- Memory loss that affects day-to-day function;
- Difficulty performing familiar tasks;
- Confusion about time and place;
- Problems with language;
- Problems with abstract thinking;
- Poor or decreased judgment;
- Problems with misplacing things;
- Changes in behaviour and personality; and
- Loss of initiative.
Now I realise most of us will start to look at our own behaviours and believe that, on occasion, we are suffering from some of the aforementioned symptoms. I know that I do, however unless you are suffering from them on a daily basis, I do not believe you should be unnecessarily worried.
The diagnosis should be left to qualified medical practitioners. But, having said that, it has been found that family members are often the first to notice the symptoms associated with the onset of dementia, long before a medical diagnosis is made.
This article should not be used as a substitute for medical advice and diagnosing Gran with dementia!
Are there habits – outside the obvious of not drinking excessive amounts of alcohol on a daily basis – which we are able to manage which can reduce the risk factors?
The answer is “yes”. Here are a number of suggestions:
- Look after your heart;
- Be physically active;
- Mentally challenge your brain;
- Follow a healthy diet;
- Enjoy social activity;
- Avoid head injury – seems obvious;
- Manage depression; and
- Don’t smoke.
However, following these suggestions will not guarantee you will avoid dementia, but it certainly may lessen your chances of contracting the disease.
Dementia is an insidious disease and not one you would wish on your worst enemy, so it is worthwhile looking at your lifestyle and maybe make a few adjustments if necessary.
If you would like to learn more, may I suggest the following websites as an excellent place to start:9