Understanding Dementia

There are many forms of dementia, usually occurring in individuals after the age of 65, but like many illnesses it can happen at any time. The progressive decline in a persons functioning can mean the individual may experience loss of memory, intellect, rationality, social skills and their emotional responses may seem obscure.

The key topics discussed in this section include:

What is dementia?

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?

Most 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?

There are many different forms of dementia and each has its own causes. Some of the most common forms of dementia are:

Is it dementia?

There 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?

This 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. Some common symptoms may include:

What is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is a physical condition which attacks the brain resulting in impaired memory, thinking and behaviour. It is the most common form of dementia accounting for between 50% and 70% of all cases.

What can be done to help?
At 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 continued help of families, friends, and carers can really make a positive difference to managing the condition.
Alzheimer’s Australia NSW offers a range of Help Sheets providing information on the following:

About Dementia
Topics include diagnosis, planning, memory changes, research and types of dementia.

Caring for someone with dementia
Practical advice about issues facing families, carers, friends and also useful for health professionals of people with dementia.

Changed behaviours and dementia
Dementia affects people in different ways. Understanding why someone is behaving in a particular way may help you with some ideas about how to cope.

Information for people with dementia
Information specifically for the person with a diagnosis of dementia. Topics include early planning, driving and making employment decisions.

Looking after families and carers
Advice for families and carers of people with dementia, on how to take care of themselves.

Residential care and dementia
Making the decision to find an alternative to caring for a person with dementia at home can be one of the most difficult decisions families and carers will make. Being prepared can help make this decision less stressful.

Update Sheets
Update Sheets offer the very latest information officially released by Alzheimer's Australia.

Young people and dementia
Information to help children and suggestions on ways they can help the person with dementia.

Younger onset dementia
The term "younger onset dementia" is usually used to describe any form of dementia diagnosed in people under the age of 65. This section emphasises the importance of a correct diagnosis and some aspects of caring for someone with younger onset dementia.

For more information:
Alzheimer’s Australia NSW

Millennium - Victoria understanding care