What is Dementia?
Dementia is a broad term used to describe a large group of illnesses that cause progressive decline in a person’s ability to function. It is not a normal part of ageing. It is characterised by impairment of brain functions, including language, memory, perception, personality and cognitive skills.
There are many types of dementia, the most common being Alzheimer’s disease. The type, severity of symptoms and their pattern of development vary with the type of dementia. The illness is usually of a gradual onset, progressive in nature and irreversible.
What are some of the early symptoms and warning signs?
Early symptoms and warning signs can greatly vary from one person to another. They may be subtle and not immediately obvious. Problems with memory, especially remembering recent events, are usually the first symptoms people tend to notice.
Other early symptoms and warning signs include:
- Progressive and frequent memory loss that affects day-to-day functioning
- Disorientation to time and place
- Impaired judgement and physical coordination
- Loss of language and communication skill
- Altered sleeping patterns, eating disturbances and screaming
- Personality/behavioural/mood changes
- Loss of ability to perform everyday tasks
Sometimes it is difficult to recognise that these symptoms indicate something is wrong. They may be seen as a normal part of the ageing process. Or the symptoms may go unnoticed for a long time and progressively develop.
Contact your doctor as soon as possible if you notice changes like these or are worried that you or someone you care for may have dementia. An early diagnosis is important.
Reducing your risk of Dementia.
The following key strategies assist in keeping your brain healthy as you age:
- Keep your brain active
- Stay connected with family, friends and your community
- Engage in regular physical exercise
- Maintain a healthy diet and avoid excessive alcohol consumption
- Monitor your health including blood pressure, weight and sugar levels.
Importance of family and friends
Family and friends play an important role in the lives of people with dementia. They provide important links to past experiences, and help a person with dementia continue being a valued member of a family and circle of friends. They can also provide support to the people caring for a person with dementia.
What can family and friends do to help?
- Learn about dementia. It is a good idea to talk to people about the diagnosis and any concerns you may have. Family and friends may be able to support you in accessing and organising services as needed and plan ahead.
- Encourage family and carers to have a break from caring.
- Organise a meal, or help out with shopping or cleaning.
- Support the person with dementia to participate in activities they enjoyed before their diagnosis.
- Be aware that people with dementia do not like crowds or noisy environments.
- Activities may need to be adapted, but it is important to continue participating in them as long as they are enjoyed.
- Ask about specific ways you can help. Remember that many people are reluctant to admit that they need help until the need is urgent.
Resources and Help
- National Dementia Helpline - 1800 100 500
- Dementia Behavioural Management Advisory Services - 1800 699 799
- Dealing with Memory Loss and Confusion Fact Sheet
- Dementia Enabling Environments
- Respite care
- Fight Alzheimer’s Save Australia – 1800 100 500
- My Aged Care - 1800 200 422
- Local Doctor (Your GP)