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What is Dementia?

Have you got a family member or friend showing signs of dementia? Or maybe they’ve already being diagnosed with a form of dementia? Perhaps you’re worried about some of your own behavior. Here is some basic information that will help you to understand dementia.

Wooden blocks spelling out dementia, sitting on a sunlit windowsill

Defining 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, and behavioral skills that can 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.

Common types of dementia

Among the most common types of dementia are Alzheimer’s disease, Vascular dementia, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, Korsakoff’s syndrome (alcohol-related dementia), Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease, dementia with Lewy bodies, and Fronto Temporal Lobar Degeneration (FTLD).

Symptoms of dementia

There are many symptoms of dementia including:

  • Frequent memory loss
  • Lack of clarity in communication and language
  • Lack of focus
  • Confusion
  • Personality change
  • Apathy and withdrawal
  • Difficulty performing everyday tasks
  • Change in visual perception.

In most cases, symptoms are subtle to begin with and then get progressively worse.

Can dementia be treated?

Most types of dementia cannot be cured or reversed, they progressively worsen. However, they can be managed.

There are, however, several conditions with dementia-like symptoms that can be treated. These include:

  • Severe dehydration and vitamin deficiencies
  • Adverse reactions to medications
  • Immune disorders resulting from infections and fevers
  • Metabolic problems and endocrine abnormalities, such as thyroid issues and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
  • Bleeding of the brain
  • Alcohol and substance abuse
  • Normal-pressure hydrocephalus (abnormal enlargement of brain cavities)
  • Brain tumor
  • Anoxia (lack of oxygen).

 Who gets dementia?

Dementia is not a natural part of the process of ageing and is most common in people over 65 but can also occur in people in their 40s and 50s. In these cases, it is known as early onset dementia.

A great deal of research has been conducted into whether various forms of dementia are inherited. In most cases, the answer is no. However, there are some forms of dementia such as Huntington’s Disease that are inherited by subsequent generations. Genetic mutations can play a role in the onset of other forms of dementia, so if there is a family history of dementia, it can be a good idea to have tests done.

Can dementia be prevented?

The ageing process and your genetic make-up can obviously not be prevented or altered. However, there are areas of one’s life that can be focused on to reduce the risk of dementia. These areas include:

  • Diet and nutrition: Focus on a diet high in dietary fibres, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, potassium, calcium, magnesium and vitamins B-12, C, D, E; and low in cholesterol, saturated fat, sugar and salt.
  • Alcohol intake: Low-moderate alcohol consumption is recommended; while high alcohol consumption can lead to the onset of dementia.
  • Exercise: Regular exercise helps blood and oxygen flow throughout the body, including the brain, keeping the brain active and less susceptible to cell damage. Exercise does not need to be strenuous, just ensure that it is regular (about 30 minutes a day).
  • Intellectual stimulation: Keeping your brain intellectually active creates new connections between brain cells, as well as strengthening existing connections. This can delay the onset of dementia and decrease its impact.
  • Social activity: It is important to maintain social interaction. Socialisation stimulates connections between the brain cells.

Caring for people with dementia

The level of care given to someone with dementia depends a great deal on the type and degree of their dementia. Some people are still able to live alone with minimal assistance; others can live alone with more active assistance; others may require constant assistance either in their own home or in a care facility.

Here are some basic tips that may help but more information can be found in Caring for someone with dementia, Aged care homes with dementia care and Person-centred dementia care.

  • If caring for someone in their own home, make sure they are in a safe, comfortable and stimulating environment.
  • Ensure the person you are caring for has a range of activities they can do every day, both physical and intellectual.
  • If you are searching for residential care, do not rush into the first available option. Check various facilities, particularly focusing on those who provide specialist dementia care.
  • Take care of yourself. Do not take on more responsibility than you can manage, or that is unhealthy for you. You are not caring adequately for the other person if you are not adequately caring for yourself.

An individual diagnosis of dementia has an impact on a network of people: friends, families and colleagues. Support and further information is available from the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500or at

To find Dementia Care providers in your local area who specialise in dementia speak to a CareAbout adviser on 1300 721 855.


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