Dementia awareness month
What is the difference between dementia and normal ageing?
September is Dementia Awareness month and the 19th – 25th September 2022 is Dementia Action Week. Dementia is not one specific disease – it’s a collection of symptoms caused by disorders, including Alzheimer’s Disease, that affect the brain.
Dementia is reasonably common – around 487,500 Australians are living with dementia and 1.6 million people are involved in their care. The number of people living with dementia will double in the next 25 years.
Here we look at some early signs of dementia and how we can support people who are living with it.
Early signs of dementia
The warning signs of dementia can develop slowly. They’re often confused with normal signs of cognitive decline that come with ageing. It is normal to occasionally take longer to remember something, struggle to recall names, and find it hard to learn new things.
However, if memory problems are disrupting your everyday life, then it could be a problem. According to the Dementia Australia ‘Worried about your Memory’ booklet and the American Alzheimer’s Association, here are ten warning signs of dementia.
1. Your memory loss disrupts daily life.
You may often forget recently learned information, or important dates and events. You may also ask the same questions over and over or rely on memory aids like notes or family and friends for information you used to remember.
Typical age-related change: Sometimes forgetting someone’s name but remembering it later.
2. Challenges in planning or solving problems.
You may experience changes in your ability to follow a plan or work with numbers. This could include following a recipe or keeping track of bills.
Typical age-related change: Making occasional mistakes when managing finances.
3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks
You may find it harder to drive to a familiar location, remember the rules of a favourite game or organise your grocery list.
Typical age-related change: Occasionally needing help with technology, such as recording a TV show.
4. Confusion with time or place
You may lose track of dates or the passing of time. You may sometimes forget where you are or how you got there.
Typical age-related change: Getting confused about what day of the week it is but remembering it later.
5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
Some people have vision problems from dementia and may have problems with reading, driving and judging distances and seeing colour or contrast.
Typical age-related change: Vision problems related to cataracts.
6. New problems with words in speaking or writing
You may have problems following or joining a conversation. You may struggle with vocabulary, repeat yourself, or call things the wrong name.
Typical age-related change: Occasionally struggling to find the right word.
7. Misplacing things
You may lose possessions or put them in unusual places. As the disease progresses, you may accuse others of stealing when you can’t find where you’ve put things.
Typical age-related change: Losing things from time to time but retracing your steps to find them.
8. Decreased or poor judgement
You may have trouble making decisions and pay less attention to personal grooming or cleaning.
Typical age-related change: Making a bad decision every so often.
9. Withdrawal from work or social activities
As you may find it difficult to follow a conversation, you may withdraw from hobbies, social occasions, or other activities.
Typical age-related change: Occasionally not wanting to attend social or family obligations.
10. Changes in mood or personality
Body: You may become confused, suspicious, depressed, or fearful. You may become easily upset.
Typical age-related change: Having your own way of doing things and becoming annoyed when your routine is changed.
What should I do if I experience any of these changes?
If you notice any of these signs, it’s important to talk to your doctor. These symptoms may not be caused by dementia. Other possible causes of memory loss include:
- Chronic illness
- Medication or alcohol
When you visit your doctor, they may do several tests, including a physical and neurological examination, blood and urine tests, neuropsychological testing and/or a mental status test. Depending on your symptoms, you may also do a psychiatric assessment or other specialised tests such as a chest x-ray, ECG, or CT scan. You may be referred to a neurologist, geriatrician or psychiatrist.
If your memory loss is caused by dementia, it’s best to know early. An early diagnosis of dementia can help you access medication, support and more information.
What happens if I’m diagnosed with dementia?
Although being diagnosed with dementia can be scary, for many people there is also a sense of relief that there is a cause for your symptoms. Knowing the diagnosis can also give you a sense of independence because you can start planning for your future and there is plenty of support available to help you. You can still lead an active and fulfilling life for many years after your dementia diagnosis.
Dementia Australia has lots of tools and resources for you to look at, including memory related resources and tips for improving your home environment.
They can also put you in touch with others in your situation if that would help. For more information ring the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500.
How can we all support people with dementia?
This year’s theme for Dementia Action Week is “A little support makes a big difference”. It’s about making all Australians aware of how we can support people with dementia.
A recent Dementia Australia survey found that 91% of people with a loved one with dementia say that many people don’t keep in touch with that person like they used to. Keeping in touch with people with dementia is one way we can all make a difference. They have written about 7 ways we can support people living with dementia.
At Five Good Friends, we also have Alzheimer’s and dementia specific care. We can match you with the right Helper who can provide social interaction and mind-stimulating activities while also monitoring your behavioural and cognitive symptoms.
The care of these skilled helpers can make sure you live a high-quality life in your own home while giving you and your family peace of mind.
If you’d like to know more about our dementia specific home care services, please get in touch with us at Five Good Friends.
Learn more: What's the difference between CHSP and HCP?