Although there is no cure, there are steps that you can take to potentially stabilise the course of dementia – at least for a time. These include medical treatment, community supports and practical life changes. A positive outlook is important too, as is support from family, friends and the wider community. Everyone can make a difference.
There is growing evidence that leading a healthy, active lifestyle may help maintain brain health. By exercising often, not smoking, eating healthily, reducing alcohol intake and controlling high blood pressure, you may be able to lower your risk of dementia. It is also vital to keep the brain active by being socially engaged and meeting people, challenging yourself with a mind game or puzzle, and learning a new skill or unleashing a talent that you never realised you had.
While dementia is more common in people over 65, younger people can develop dementia too. In someone under 65, it is called early or younger onset dementia. Most people with early or younger onset dementia are in their 40s or 50s. People who are diagnosed may have a family history of dementia and genetics may play a role. The most common types that affect those under 65 are Alzheimer’s disease and fronto-temporal dementia. Younger onset dementia can also affect those with other conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Huntington’s disease or HIV (AIDS).
Although dementia usually affects people as they get older, it’s not a normal part of aging. In fact, nine out of ten older people don’t develop dementia. A lot of people mature into their 80s and 90s without much memory decline.
At the earliest stages, dementia can be confused with age-related forgetfulness that we can all experience. It's not unusual for people to forget names or where they have put their keys. With dementia, however, memory loss is more significant than forgetting things occasionally and tends to gradually get worse. With dementia, people begin struggling with work or everyday tasks like paying bills or driving places. In the later stages they may have difficulty dressing, bathing, walking or recognising family and friends.
It is a good idea to have a chat with your GP if you notice significant changes like the symptoms mentioned above. Early diagnosis means treatment can start sooner and you can get immediate support and information. It also provides an opportunity to plan for the future. However, it is important to also recognise that symptoms may not be due to dementia. Indeed depression, stroke, infections, severe vitamin deficiencies, thyroid abnormalities and even side effects of medications can cause memory complaints, which could be mistaken for dementia.
Dementia is an umbrella term to describe a set of symptoms that occur when brain cells stop working properly. There are at least 400 different types, the most common of which is Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease often develops slowly, over several years, and early signs usually include difficulty in forming new memories for recent events. People may also experience difficulty coming up with the right words, figuring out problems, making decisions, judging distance and finding their way to familiar places. Other types of dementia affect people differently. For example, Lewy body disease can affect movement, while fronto-temporal dementia can affect language function, behaviour and personality.