Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a group of symptoms and conditions that affect how well our brains work.
Dementia is a neurodegenerative disease that can affect anyone, and as people get older, the chances of developing dementia increase.
The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, responsible for around 60 to 80% of dementia cases. Dementia is a progressive disease that spreads through the brain over time, worsening the symptoms. The damages that dementia makes to the brain can start up to 20 years before the first symptoms appear, which means that once a person starts to show symptoms, significant damage has already been done to the brain.
The symptoms each person experiences depends on the parts of the brain that are affected. However, the most common dementia symptoms include changes in memory, thinking, behaviours, personality and emotions. These changes affect a person’s ability to perform everyday tasks and interfere with their daily lives.
Dementia is different for everyone – what people experience and how quickly they are affected is unique. What they can do, remember and understand may change from day to day.
It is believed that dementia is caused by a combination of risk factors, including genetics and lifestyle.
Age is the main risk factor for the development of sporadic dementia, with cases increasing after the ages of 60 and 80 years old. In addition to age, an allele (ApoE4) is considered a genetic risk factor that increases the chance of people carrying the gene developing the disease. While age and genetics are definite, many modifiable risk factors are associated with dementia, such as diet and lifestyle.
Lack of physical activity, poor diet, smoking, obesity, diabetes, depression and hypertension can contribute to oxidative stress in the body and brain. Oxidative stress and inflammation lead to brain damage. In Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, the accumulation of a toxic peptide, amyloid-beta, and tau protein are strongly correlated to a decline in cognition.
A genetic form of Alzheimer’s disease can also occur. The genetic form of Alzheimer’s is described as early-onset and often happens with only around 5% of all dementia cases. Early-onset AD is associated with specific genes, and environmental changes are not as impactful as sporadic cases.
The early signs and symptoms of dementia can be subtle and hard to recognize.
Many conditions, such as stroke, depression and infections, as well as normal ageing, can cause dementia-like symptoms. It’s important not to assume any changes are due to dementia.
It’s very important to see a GP if you have concerns that you or someone you know may have dementia. If the symptoms are caused by a treatable condition, they can be diagnosed and treated.
10 Warning Signs
1. Recent memory loss that affects daily life
It’s normal to forget meetings, names or telephone numbers occasionally and then remember them later. A person with dementia might have trouble remembering recent events.
2. Difficulty performing regular tasks
It’s normal to make a wrong turn occasionally while driving.
Someone with dementia might have regular difficulty driving a familiar route.
3. Problems with language
Many people have trouble finding the right words sometimes.
But someone with dementia might have difficulty following, or initiating a conversation.
4. Disorientation of time and place
It is normal to occasionally forget what day it is or where you are going.
A person with dementia may be confused about the time of day, and what is appropriate for that time.
5. Decreased or poor judgment
Making a bad decision once in a while is normal.
A person with dementia might make bad decisions more frequently and start paying less attention to their physical appearance.
6. Problems with abstract thinking
It’s normal to have difficulty balancing a budget.
A person with dementia might completely forget what the numbers are and what needs to be done with them.
7. Misplacing things
Anyone can misplace their wallet or keys.
A person with dementia might repeatedly put things in inappropriate places.
8. Changes in mood and behaviours
Everyone becomes sad or moody from time to time.
A person with dementia can have rapid mood swings, from calm to tears to anger, for no apparent reason.
9. Changes in personality
People’s personalities can change a little with age
A person with dementia might have problems in social situations they have previously been comfortable with.
10. Loss of initiative
It is normal for people to tire of housework, business activities or social obligations.
A person with dementia may no longer initiate things that they once enjoyed.
Based on Ten Warning Signs, Dementia Australia
Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a group of conditions that affect how well our brains work. Dementia can affect anyone, and as people get older the chances of developing dementia increase.
Misdiagnosis of dementia among Māori is the focus of a three-year field study by Dr. Margaret Dudley, with the aim of developing more effective assessment tools and care for Māori. So, what does dementia look like in the lives of everyday Māori? One whānau shares their story of coping and caring for their mother with early onset dementia, and we visit a care unit using te reo, whakpapapa and waiata to enhance the well-being of Māori with dementia. This video was made with funding from NZ On Air.