WHAT IS DEMENTIA?Dementia is a chronic (long-term) condition characterised by changes in intellect, personality, memory, learning and other functions of knowledge.
WHO DOES DEMENTIA AFFECT?Dementia affects more than 15 per cent of people over 65 years of age and more than 40 per cent of people over 80 years of age, although it may occur in younger people following brain injury. Dementia is a term that describes a variety of signs and symptoms caused by damage to the brain.
It affects individuals in different ways depending on the degree of damage and the underlying cause of the Dementia. Dementia is not the same as age-related memory loss. It is normal for some aged people to have difficulty learning new things, or to experience short-term (recent) memory loss. Unlike dementia, the personality remains the same, they have no trouble performing familiar tasks and their memories of distant events remain strong.
WHAT CAUSES DEMENTIA?There are many conditions that may cause Dementia. About 65 per cent of cases are caused by Alzheimer's disease. Other causes include:
• Chronic diseases: Parkinson's disease , hypothyroidism, multiple sclerosis , diabetes mellitus.
• Brain injury: Brain tumour, trauma, hydrocephalus (fluid on the brain), multi-infarct dementia (caused by repeated small strokes).
• Toxic conditions: Vitamin deficiency (especially folic acid or vitamin B12), alcoholism, high blood levels of lead, side effects of some medication.
• Infection: Meningitis, encephalitis, untreated syphilis, HIV and AIDS.
THE SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF DEMENTIASigns and symptoms of dementia include memory loss, confusion, difficulty with speech (forgetting words or forgetting to finish sentences), mood swings, anxiety and agitation. Symptoms can differ widely from person to person.
In the early stages the symptoms may be barely noticeable, but eventually they can become severe enough to interfere with work, social activities and relationships. If the dementia is a result of brain injury, the symptoms will usually remain static and not worsen over time.
HOW TO TREAT DEMENTIAIn no way is this information intended to replace the advice of a medical practitioner. Always consult your Doctor for diagnosis and treatment. Early diagnosis is vital, as many treatable conditions may cause the same symptoms as dementia (e.g. dehydration, minor stroke or incorrect medication).
A full medical examination will be required to ensure the person does have Dementia and not a treatable illness. A professional assessment by a team social workers, doctors, physiotherapists and occupational therapists can help identify areas of concern.
PHARMACIST'S ADVICEAsk your Pharmacist for advice.
1) Ask your Pharmacist about any medications you are taking.
2) Segmented medication containers with different sections for each day and time may help prevent medication errors. Ask your Pharmacist for one of these.
3) Home health aids (e.g. safety equipment, bath or shower chairs) may help if you are caring for someone with Dementia. Your Pharmacist can advise you about these.
4) Anti-smoking products may help reduce cravings when trying to quit. Ask your Pharmacist for advice about nicotine replacement therapy.
5) If the diet is inadequate, consider the supplements listed in the Vitamins/Minerals/Herbs section of this topic.
VITAMINS/MINERALS/HERBSAlways consult your Doctor before commencing supplements, as some may have interactions with other medications. Supplements may only be beneficial if dietary intake is inadequate.- Essential fatty acids deficiency may be associated with certain types of dementia. EFAs are found in fish oil.
- Magnesium deficiency may contribute to Alzheimer's Disease.
- Vitamin B12 and folate deficiency may be associated with increased risk of dementia.
- Ginkgo biloba may help with improving memory and reducing the symptoms of dementia.
- Vinpocetine is a herbal extract that increases blood flow to the brain. It may improve memory and brain function in people with Dementia.
- Huperzine A is a Chinese herbal extract that may improve memory and behaviour in people with Dementia.
ORGANISATIONS and SUPPORT GROUPS
For more information on dementia visit Australian Department of Health and Ageing