What is Dementia?
Published: 09 September 2019
Published: 09 September 2019
Dementia is the term used for a collection of symptoms that are caused by disorders affecting the brain–it is not one specific disease.
Dementia should not be considered a ‘normal’ part of ageing. Dementia can happen to anybody, though it is more common after 65 years of age (Dementia Australia n.d.b.; Alzheimer’s Association 2019).
There are six main cognitive domains that may be affected by dementia. They include complex attention; executive function; learning and memory; language; social cognition and perceptual-motor function (Woodward 2015).
It is essential that you have an awareness of dementia, as it is a growing epidemic in Australia. There are an estimated 1,800 new cases of dementia detected each week and this is expected to grow (Dementia Australia 2018).
Dementia awareness specifically relates to Standard 3 of the Aged Care Quality Standards: Personal and Clinical Care.
This article will outline types of dementia; signs and symptoms; presentation; treatment and prevention and provide you with material for further research.
Dementia is the second leading cause of death of Australians.
It is the leading cause of death of Australian women as of 2016, surpassing heart disease.
There is an estimated 447,115 Australians currently living with dementia.
Indigenous Australians are three to five times more likely to develop dementia compared to non-indigenous people.
Almost 1.5 million people in Australia are involved in the care of someone living with dementia.
People with dementia account for 52% of all residents in residential aged care facilities.
(ABS 2018; Dementia Australia n.d.b; Mavromaras et al 2017; Queensland Brain Institute 2019a)
(Dementia Australia n.d.b; Better Health Channel 2014a; Legg 2017; Alzheimer’s Association 2019)
There is a generally recognised trajectory to the progression of dementia. It is characterised by the following three stages:
A person is able to carry out daily tasks without assistance, but a number of areas within personal care and memory are observed as showing deficits (Dementia Australia n.d.a).
These deficits have become more obvious and severe, and the level of assistance needed to function in and out of the home is steadily increasing (Dementia Australia n.d.a).
By this stage, the person is almost completely dependent on the care and supervision of other people (Dementia Australia n.d.a).
(Dementia Australia n.d.b; Woodward 2015; Clark 2015; Better Health Channel 2014b; Alzheimer’s Association 2019)
Beyond these signs, look for more subtle red flags such as frequent falls or trouble maintaining balance; or unexpected deterioration (Clark 2015).
The difficulty of detecting dementia is that many of its effects overlap with the common effects of ageing. This is why early and confident diagnosis is needed.
Someone who has dementia will present with having lost or being in the process of losing one or a combination of the following:
(Dementia Australia n.d.b)
Ongoing support is critical for people living with dementia. As a care worker or healthcare professional, you are in a unique position to empower patients and their loved ones with relevant information that will help them to understand and manage the condition, for both the immediate and distant future. Your intervention could considerably improve their quality of life (Woodward 2015; Health Direct 2018b).
Pharmacological therapies may be available to them. Additionally, referral to non-pharmacological therapies may be appropriate such as:
(Woodward 2015; Dementia Australia n.d.b.; Health Direct 2018b).
Therapies may include cognitive behavioural therapy, psychotherapy, and music, art and pet therapy (Woodward 2015; Better Health Channel 2018).
While there is not yet a cure for dementia, there are medicinal options that are able to slow the progression of the illness and, in some cases, ameliorate the symptoms (Woodward 2015).
Timely diagnosis is crucial to the treatment of dementia as medicinal intervention has been shown to be most effective in the early stages of illness (Woodward 2015).
Some people are more prone to the risk of developing dementia for reasons that are out of their control, such as genetics or incurring brain injury. There are, however, a list of modifiable risk factors that put people at risk.
(Woodward 2015; Dementia Australia n.d.b)
(Woodward 2015; Dementia Australia n.d.b; Alzheimer’s Association 2019; Health Direct 2018a)
Researchers continue to investigate measures to reduce the risk of developing dementia. The most active areas of research and risk reduction and prevention include:
(Alzheimer’s Association 2019)
It’s possible that like cancer, dementia will never be completely preventable, but we can improve on methods to delay its onset and lessen its damage. The Australian Government set up the National Institute of Dementia Research in 2013 to coordinate funding and research projects on dementia. State and federal governments are committed to continued funding dementia research (Queensland Brain Institute 2019a).
Question 1 of 3
How much more likely are Indigenous Australians to develop dementia?
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