Dementia: an overview
Dementia affects a great number of Australians. Here's everything you need to know about dementia.
Dementia is not a specific condition or disease. It is a term that is used to describe a range of symptoms associated with loss of memory, thinking skills and behaviour skills that significantly reduce a person’s ability to perform everyday activities.
Dementia is caused by damage to brain cells. As a result, brain cells have difficulty communicating with each other. The type of dementia that a person has depends on which cells have been damaged.
There are many symptoms of dementia associated with the various types of dementia. Not all of the symptoms for all of the dementia types are listed, and not all of those listed apply to all dementia types. Rather, they are the most common symptoms.
Early onset dementia (also called younger onset dementia), is dementia that has been diagnosed in anyone below the age of 65. Dementia is much less common in people under the age of 65 and can sometimes go unnoticed, so it’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms. Approximately 30,000 Australians are living with early onset dementia.
The earlier a diagnosis of early-onset dementia is made, the quicker planning for the future can start. This is critical given the likely financial and family commitments that the person will have. However, it can often take longer to diagnose early-onset dementia than later dementia because the condition is not expected and therefore symptoms can be brushed off as something less serious.
The symptoms of early-onset dementia are very similar to those of later dementia. However, memory loss is usually less prevalent early on; while movement, balance and coordination-related issues are most common.
If you have any concerns at all about your behaviour, or that of a loved one, it would be useful to familiarise yourself with the Symptoms of dementia.
Most people with early-onset dementia are still working when they are diagnosed. This raises several issues that need to be managed.
Dementia with Lewy bodies (or Lewy body disease) is a form of dementia in which a build-up of microscopic deposits known as Lewy bodies impair and destroy nerve cells in the brain. Progress of the condition is usually faster than Alzheimer’s disease. The main symptoms are:
Alzheimer’s Disease is a type of dementia and is in fact the most common form of dementia. Dementia is the general term used to describe a range of symptoms associated with the loss of memory, thinking and behavioural skills which significantly reduces a person’s ability to perform everyday activities. These result from damage to brain cells.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. It is responsible for about 70% of all dementia cases. The vast majority of cases are in people over the age of 65 and are a result of sporadic Alzheimer’s disease. However, a less common form, familial Alzheimer’s disease, caused by genetic mutation, can affect people under the age of 65.
Alzheimer’s disease is caused by the build-up of abnormal deposits of protein in the brain. There are two types of deposits, plaques and tangles. The plaques are a protein fragment called beta-amyloid and they build up in the spaces between nerve cells. The tangles are fibres of a protein called tau and they build up inside brain cells. These build-ups usually begin in the outer brain, where short-term memory is controlled. It then spreads and starts to affect long-term memory and other functions.
Research into Alzheimer’s disease has really only taken off within the last couple of decades. However, the prevalence of Alzheimer’s means there are now a great deal of resources being put into understanding the disease. While there is a general understanding of what is happening within the brain of Alzheimer’s sufferers, researchers are still trying to determine exactly how and why the build-ups of beta-amyloid and tau occur.
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