According to Alzheimer’s Australia, dementia describes a collection of symptoms that are caused by disorders affecting the brain. It is not one specific disease. Dementia affects thinking, behaviour and the ability to perform everyday tasks. The brain’s function is affected enough to interfere with the person’s normal social and working life.
There are four most common forms of dementia. These are:
- Alzheimer’s disease;
- Vascular dementia;
- Dementia with Lewy bodies; and
- Frontotemporal dementia
Dementia may also be associated with other conditions including:
- Parkinson’s disease;
- Huntington’s disease;
- Alcohol abuse;
- AIDS; and
- Down’s syndrome
Dementia affects different people in different ways. This depends on the type of dementia they have and the area of the brain that is affected.
In Australia, 10% of people over the age of 65 and 30% over the age of 85 have some form of dementia.
That’s more than 320,000 Australians.
Dementia is more common in older people. However, younger people are sometimes affected. It is becoming an increasingly common problem in society because people are living longer. As a result, dementia will become the third greatest source of health and residential aged care spending within 20 years. Dementia is even considered a key National Health Priority Area in Australia.
The primary symptoms of dementia are changes in what is referred to as ‘cognitive function’, which includes:
- Judgement; and
These changes create difficulties with communication and everyday tasks, as well as personal care such as toileting, bathing and dressing. Cognitive symptoms are often accompanied with changes in behaviour, personality and mood. These are known as behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD).
The early signs of dementia may go unnoticed or may be confused with ‘old age’. However, dementia is not a part of normal ageing. With numbers expected to increase by one third within ten years, a medical diagnosis is essential. The sooner the support and information are provided, the better it is for patients with dementia and to their families or carers.
The signs and symptoms of dementia may also be confused with other health concerns, such as:
- ‘Old age’;
- Vitamin/hormone deficiencies;
- Medicine interactions/misuse/overuse;
- Infections; and
- Brain tumours
Currently, there is no cure for dementia. However, there are various therapies that will help in managing the symptoms. These therapies include medicinal and non-medicinal which support people with dementia in their activities and daily living.
Medicinal therapies include prescription medicines. They are approved for Alzheimer’s disease and provide relief from some symptoms of dementia. They also slow down the progression of memory loss in some patients for a limited time. Some complementary and alternative medicines (CAMs) have also been proposed to prevent or treat symptoms of dementia. However, always check with your pharmacist or doctor.
Non-medicinal therapies, on the other hand, include ways to manage dementia. They have a particular focus on patient-centred care to relieve the symptoms and improve the quality of life for people with dementia and their families or carers. Non-medicinal therapies may improve the cognitive function and help relieve the behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD) through the following:
- Behavioural strategies (e.g. rewarding good behaviour and discouraging unwanted behaviours);
- Memory aids and environmental modifications (e.g. written information, signs and calendars that help with memory); and
- Activities that elevate the mood, provide stimulation and encourage social interaction (e.g. music therapy, art therapy, pet therapy and physical activity).
Alzheimer’s Australia is the peak body and charity for all types of dementia. It provides advocacy, support services and education, and information for patients and their families/carers, including risk factors, symptoms and management strategies. It also provides information on ‘dementia-friendly’ pharmacies – with tips on physical environment and improving communication with people with dementia.
As a PSA* Self Care Pharmacy, Fresh Therapeutics has more detailed information on dementia on the Self Care Fact Cards titled Alzheimer’s disease and Carer support. Our pharmacists are “up front” to provide you with more information about dementia symptoms and progression, management and medicines. We also stock a range of quality supplements that may be helpful in managing dementia if suggested by your doctor.