What is Dementia?
What is dementia?
is the term used to describe the symptoms of a large group
of illnesses which cause a progressive decline in a person’s
functioning. It is a broad term used to describe a loss of
memory, intellect, rationality, social skills and what would
be considered normal emotional reactions.
Who gets dementia?
people with dementia are older, but it is important to
remember that most older people do not get dementia. It is
not a normal part of ageing. Dementia can happen to anybody,
but it is more common after the age of 65 years. People in
their 40s and 50s can also have dementia.
What causes dementia?
are many different forms of dementia and each has its own
causes. Some of the most common forms of dementia are:
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and
accounts for between 50% and 70% of all cases. It is a
progressive, degenerative illness that attacks the brain. As
brain cells shrink or disappear abnormal material builds up
as “tangles” in the centre of the brain cells, and “plaques”
outside the brain cells. These disrupt messages within the
brain, damaging connections between brain cells. The brain
cells eventually die and this means that information cannot
be recalled or assimilated. As Alzheimer’s disease affects
each area of the brain, certain functions or abilities are
dementia is the broad term for dementia associated with
problems of circulation of blood to the brain and is the
second most common form of dementia. There are a number of
different types of Vascular dementia. Two of the most common
are Multi-infarct dementia and Binswanger’s disease.
Multi-infarct dementia is caused by a number of small
strokes, called mini-strokes or Transient Ischaemic Attacks
(TIA) and is probably the most common form of Vascular
dementia. Binswanger’s disease (also known as Subcortical
vascular dementia) is associated with stroke-related changes
to the brain. It is caused by high blood pressure,
thickening of the arteries and inadequate blood flow.
Vascular dementia may appear similar to Alzheimer’s disease,
and a mixture of Alzheimer’s disease and Vascular dementia
can occur in some people.
Parkinson’s disease is a progressive disorder of the central
nervous system, characterised by tremors, stiffness in limbs
and joints, speech impediments and difficulty in initiating
physical movements. Late in the course of the disease some
people may develop dementia. Drugs may improve the physical
symptoms, but can have side effects that may include
hallucinations, delusions, temporary worsening of confusion
and abnormal movements.
Dementia With Lewy Bodies
with Lewy bodies is caused by the degeneration and death of
nerve cells in the brain. The name comes from the presence
of abnormal spherical structures, called Lewy bodies, which
develop inside nerve cells. It is thought that these may
contribute to the death of the brain cells. People who have
dementia with Lewy bodies tend to see things (visual
hallucinations), experience stiffness or shakiness
(parkinsonism), and their condition tends to fluctuate quite
rapidly, often from hour to hour or day to day. These
symptoms allow it to be differentiated from Alzheimer’s
Alcohol Related Dementia:
alcohol, particularly if associated with a diet deficient in
thiamine (Vitamin B1) can lead to irreversible brain damage.
If drinking stops there may be some improvement. This
dementia is preventable. The National Health & Medical
Research Council of Australia’s recommendations for the safe
use of alcohol are that men should drink no more than 4
standard drinks daily and women should drink no more than 2
standard drinks daily. Development of alcohol related
dementia and Korsakoff’s syndrome has not been reported in
people drinking regularly at or below these levels. The most
vulnerable parts of the brain are those used for memory and
for planning, organising and judgement, social skills and
balance. Taking thiamine appears to help prevent and improve
Is it dementia?
are a number of conditions that produce symptoms similar to
dementia. By treating these conditions, the symptoms will
disappear. These include some vitamin and hormone
deficiencies, depression, medication clashes or
overmedication, infections and brain tumours. It is
essential that a medical diagnosis is obtained at an early
stage when symptoms first appear to ensure that a person who
has a treatable condition is diagnosed and treated
correctly. If the symptoms are caused by dementia, an early
diagnosis will mean early access to support, information,
and medication should it be available.
Can dementia be inherited?
will depend on the cause of the dementia, so it is important
to have a firm medical diagnosis. If there are concerns
about the risk of inheriting dementia, consult your doctor
or contact Alzheimer’s
Australia to speak to a
counsellor. Most cases of dementia are not inherited.
What are the early signs of dementia?
The early signs of dementia are very
subtle and vague and may not be immediately obvious.
What can be done to help?
present there is no prevention or cure for most forms of
dementia. However, some medications have been found to
reduce some symptoms. Support is vital for people with
dementia and the help of families, friends and carers can
make a positive difference to managing the condition.
Source: Alzheimer's Australia NSW