Dementia can be a daunting diagnosis, particularly for the loved ones of those diagnosed. It is often not well understood and can be tricky to recognise, as the symptoms differ among those affected.
The term "dementia" actually describes a group of conditions that alter and damage the brain, including Alzheimers. While dementia can affect anyone, instances are most common among the elderly.
People experience dementia differently depending on the parts of their brain that are affected. Most commonly, dementia symptoms include changes in memory, thinking, behaviour, personality and emotions that affect a person's ability to perform daily tasks.
The early signs and symptoms of dementia can be subtle and difficult to recognise. Many conditions such as stroke, depression, infections and normal ageing can cause similar symptoms, so it's important to get an accurate diagnosis. That way, you can get the right help if the symptoms are the result of a treatable condition or if it is early-onset dementia, you can put a plan in place and get access to the right support. If you think you or someone you know is showing signs of dementia, see a doctor as soon as you have any concerns.
The ten warning signs of dementia:
- 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.
- 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.
- Problems with language
Many people have trouble finding the right words sometimes, but someone with dementia might have difficulty following, or initiating a conversation.
- Disorientation of time and place
It is normal to 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Misplacing things
Anyone can misplace their wallet or keys. A person with dementia might repeatedly put things in inappropriate places.
- Changes in mood and behaviour
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.
- 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.
- 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.
Reducing your risk
As of yet, there is no cure for dementia, however making little changes to your lifestyle can potentially reduce your risk of developing the illness. The general rule of thumb is what is good for your heart is good for your brain! Try these five small changes to keep your brain healthy:
- Look after your heart
Certain lifestyle choices can affect the health of your heart. Making sure to adopt a healthy lifestyle can help to prevent developing high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity, as not only do these increase the risk for heart attacks and strokes, they increase the chances of developing dementia later on in life.
- Be physically active
Leading an active lifestyle can help control your blood pressure and weight, as well as reducing the risk of type two diabetes and some forms of cancer. Some evidence also suggests that being physically active can help to reduce the risk of dementia, and getting active is proven to make us feel good, and a great way of socialising.
- Follow a healthy diet
Our body and brain both rely on food for fuel. In order to keep it functioning properly we need to consume a healthy, balanced diet. Some evidence suggests that a Mediterranean-type diet, rich in low sugar cereals, fruits, fish, legumes and vegetables can help to reduce the risk of dementia. While we need to do more studies into the benefits of specific foods or supplements, we do know that eating lots of fatty and processed which are high in saturated fat, sugar and/or salt is associated with a higher risk of heart disease, and is best avoided.
- Challenge your brain
By challenging the brain with new activities you can help build new brain cells and strengthen the connections between them. This may counter the harmful effects of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia pathologies. By challenging your brain you can learn some great new things, so how about learning a new language or taking up a new hobby or sport?
- Enjoy social activities
Social engagement may also be beneficial to brain health because it stimulates our brain reserves, helping to reduce our risk of dementia and depression. Try and make time for friends and family, you can even combine your activities with physical mental exercise through sport or other hobbies.
For more information, visit alzheimers.org.nz