As we get older, it takes us longer to learn new things and to recall information. Many of us worry that each time we struggle to remember a name, a word or an event, that this could be the first sign of Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia. However, only about one per cent of people with age-related memory loss develop dementia.
Dementia is a medical term for a set of symptoms. Whatever the cause of the dementia, symptoms may include:
- memory loss
- loss of understanding or judgment
- decreased ability to make decisions
- changes in how the person expresses their emotions
- changes in personality
- problems coping with daily living
- problems with speech and understanding language
- problems socializing.
Dementia is not a normal part of aging. It is an abnormal degeneration of the brain that leads to changes in a person’s ability to think, speak, socialize and take part in normal daily activities.
Detecting dementia early, and identifying the specific type, is crucial for providing proper care. An early diagnosis also gives you, your family and friends time to prepare and connect with the right resources in your community to help maintain your independence.
While there is no cure for dementia, and no sure way to avoid it, keeping your brain active may help to delay or lessen the initial effects of dementia and prolong independence. Reading, learning a new skill and staying physically active and socially connected are all concrete steps to staying mentally and physically healthy for as long as possible.
As a dementia progresses, different parts of the brain are affected leading to a range of changes and diminishing abilities. From what we know of dementia, abilities that are lost do not then return. Memory-enhancing drugs may, however, be able to maintain memory for a period of time.
There are four main types of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common, followed by vascular dementia, Lewy bodies and frontotemporal lobe dementia. The risk of developing a dementia increases with age. Dementia affects about two per cent of Canadians age 65 to 74 and 35 per cent of those over 85.