Many people know that dementia is related to the brain and the way it functions. Often, people associate dementia with loss of memory - but it doesn't JUST affect memory.
Dementia is a "syndrome", which means that it is an umbrella term used to describe a cluster of symptoms that are caused by a range of conditions. Contrary to popular belief, dementia is not one specific disease. In fact, there are over 100 "causes" of dementia with the most common being alzheimer's disease followed by vasular dementia and dementia with Lewy bodies (Dementia Australia, 2018).
Dementia IS NOT a normal part of ageing, although most people who are diagnosed with dementia are older (over 65). In saying this, people in their 40s and 50s can also get dementia, and you may be familiar with the term 'younger onset dementia.' In Australia, approximately 250 new cases of dementia are diagnosed each day and by 2056 that number is expected to rise to 650 each day. Currently, there are approximately 436,366 people living with dementia in Australia and without a medical breakthrough that number is expected to rise to approximately 1 million by the year 2050 (Dementia Australia, 2018). These estimates are staggering and indicate the ongoing need for health services to provide support to people living with dementia and their loved ones.
Each form of dementia affects the brain differently; however it is common to see dementia affecting a persons overall behaviour, thinking and ability to perform every day tasks - not JUST their memory! Dementia affects someone's brain function enough to impact their normal social or working life.
Sometimes a person can experience dementia like symptoms (confusion, personality changes, agitation, short-term memory deficit, difficulty with recall and concentration) which can be caused by conditions such as depression, delerium and other medical concerns. Therefore, it is important the person be reviewed by a GP or medical specialist to rule out and treat other potential causes.
Symptoms of dementia can include:
- Difficulty perform familiar tasks (like cooking, driving, shopping, social interaction)
- Problems with language (problems finding the right word, using inappropriate words, difficulty understanding what has been said)
- Disorientation of time and place
- Reduced judgement or making risky decisions
- Problems with abstract thinking (like balancing the cheque book)
- Changes in mood/behaviour (low mood, anxiety, psychotic symptoms)
- Changes in personality
- Loss of initiative (may need reassurance and prompting to start tasks)
According to Alzheimer's Australia (2011), it takes approximately 3-5 years from onset of symptoms to diagnosis of dementia. It is all too common that I hear family members/carers saying that they have noticed changes in their loved ones for some time. Unfortunately, there is no cure for dementia, however the earlier that it is picked up and diagnosed, the earlier that the person and their often struggling families/carers can be linked with supports to help guide them through their journey.
So where do you go if you notice your loved one experiencing the above listed symptoms?
The first port of call is usually your GP. The GP has the ability to be able to order screening tests and may suggest a provisional diagnosis before referring out to a specialist, such as a neurologist, geriatrician or older persons psychiatrist.
BUT, what if you are struggling to convince your loved one to go to the doctor as they don't think there is a problem, or may be hesitant as they are scared about what they may hear?!
This is common and there is no easy answer. What works for one person, may not work for another.
One way can be to suggest that the person have a check up regarding their medication or for a physical symptom they may be experiencing, such as pain, headaches or reduced eyesight. Even putting forward to them the idea of both having a "physical check-up." It is important not to force the person to go to the GP. Gradually planting the seed that you are concerned may support the person to be more open to a GP visit and enhance their motivation to attend.
Sometimes, other services such as occupational therapists, social workers, counsellors and dementia specific support workers may be less intimidating and an avenue for support and linkage to community services. Even if there is no diagnosis, such health professionals may be able to work with you and your loved one on the problems that you are having. Whilst it can still be important, occupational therapists often don't need to know a diagnosis. Rather, they want to know what impact the condition is having on someones everyday life. OTs then strive to help the person and their loved ones to identify strategies to make their life better and do the things they want and need to do.
Stay tuned, as my next blog will focus on what we as occupational therapists can do to support a person and their loved ones who are experiencing dementia or symptoms of dementia. Including where to go to on the Eyre Peninsula for support!
For more information relating to the above post, visit:
Dementia Australia, 2018. About dementia, https://www.dementia.org.au/about-dementia/what-is-dementia, date viewed 24th November 2018.
Alzheimers Australia, 2011. Living with dementia, can we do better? report, https://www.dementia.org.au/files/Timely_Diagnosis_Can_we_do_better.pdf, date viewed 24th November, 2018.
Image 1 (above): sourced from sciencedaily.com
Image 2 (below): sourced from brightfocus.org
Brooke George, Occupational Therapist