In the early stages of dementia it can be difficult to tell if you’re losing yourself or a loved one to the condition. According to Alzheimer’s Australia the signs are “very subtle and vague” and therefore “may not be immediately obvious”. It can also take years to develop. So what can you do?
There’s no prevention or cure for most forms of dementia or a single established test to accurately diagnose it, but there are ways to manage the condition. They start with early detection and educating yourself on the signs will help with that.
Dementia is actually the third leading cause of death in Australia after heart disease and cancers.
Doctor Siva Purushothuman is a Postdoctoral Fellow with Neuroscience Research Australia. He wrote about this for The Conversation as part of a series which based on its title, How Australians Die, sounds morbid but addresses an important issue.
“Typically, people with dementia deteriorate gradually and eventually die from complications such as respiratory failure – from pneumonia for instance – or other infections,” Dr Purushothuman said.
“As the population ages, the number of people with dementia is expected to rise, as is the number of deaths caused by the disease.”
Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows nearly 12,000 Australians died from dementia in 2014, 3,500 more than in 2009.
What is Dementia?
Dementia is an “umbrella term for a number of neurological conditions, of which the major symptom includes a decline in brain function”. The most common is Alzheimer’s disease. Dr Purushothuman said it accounts for 50 to 70 per cent of all cases.
But, according to Alzheimer’s Australia there are more than 100 diseases which may cause dementia. The charity has detailed information about the most common ones on its website <> which include:
- Vascular dementia: problems with blood circulation to the brain
- Lewy body disease: degeneration and death of nerve cells in the brain
- Frontotemporal dementia: progressive damage to the frontal or temporal lobes
- Alcohol-related dementia: problems with memory, learning and mental function caused by excessive consumption of alcohol.
The signs and symptoms
The early warning signs of dementia varies between sufferers, which makes it all the more harder to recognise. However, it usually starts when people notice a problem with memory, “particularly in remembering recent events”.
We all forget things but when memory loss starts to affect a person’s day-to-day life then alarm bells should go off. Dementia can affect anyone, but it’s more common in people over 65.
Here are some other signs to look out for:
- Difficulty performing routine tasks
- Confusion about time and place
- Not recognising familiar objects or people
- Aimless wandering, agitation or confusion
- Delusions or hallucinations
- Problems with speech or abstract thinking
- Poor or decreased judgment
- Regularly misplacing things
- Changes in personality or behaviour
- Loss of initiative.
Dementia in young people
When we think of dementia, many of us probably put it in the “something to worry about when we’re much older” basket. Dementia is rare among under 65s but, it has been diagnosed in people in their 50s, 40s and even in their 30s. It’s estimated about 25,000 Australians have what’s called younger onset dementia.
One family has shared its struggle with the condition with ABC News. Paul Muir is 46, has frontotemporal dementia and lives in an aged care facility. His daughter and wife give a powerful account of the family’s journey in this story which is worth a read.
Only medical practitioners and specialists can diagnose dementia. If you’re worried about yourself or someone you know you can start by seeking help from a GP. If you’re regular doctor is closed or it’s after hours House Call Doctors are available. Book online, via the app or by calling 13 55 66.