Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of progressive neurological disorders, that is, conditions affecting the brain. It typically occurs later in life (after 65 years), however, early onset dementia is also possible. There are different types of dementia including:
1. Alzheimer’s disease
2. Vascular dementia
3. Frontotemporal dementia, and
4. Lewy Body dementia.

One of the signature symptoms is difficulty with short term memory recall.

Although dementia is a terminal illness, people diagnosed with it can live for many years and there are ways of improving quality of life.

Types of dementia

Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60-70% of dementia cases. Dr Alois Alzheimer first recognised the disease in 1906 when he observed protein plaques and tangles in the brain of a patient who had died.

Vascular dementia is a decline in thinking skills caused by blocked or reduced blood flow to the brain, depriving them of oxygen and nutrients. It is often part of mixed dementia although five to ten percent of dementia patients have vascular dementia alone. Typical symptoms include confusion, disorientation, poor balance and difficulty walking, and are most obvious after suffering a stroke.

Lewy body dementia often involves difficulties with body movement, such as shaking hands and stiffness. They may make violent movements when sleeping and dreaming, and can suffer hallucinations. They have changes in mood, memory and thinking behaviours and can suffer depression and anxiety.

Frontotemporal dementia involves deterioration of the frontal and temporal parts of the brain. The frontal lobe manages movement, judgement, reasoning, decision-making, speaking, social skills and self-control. The temporal lobes control hearing, understanding spoken language, emotional expression and memory. Symptoms depend on where the brain damage occurs and can include apathy, compulsive behaviour and loss of empathy, inhibitions or executive functioning.

There are other types of dementia, although these four are the most common.

Early signs of dementia

Dementia typically starts developing 10 to 20 years before symptoms begin to show.  It is therefore important to start early intervention activities between 45 and 60 years.  Some of the early signs include:

  • Lapses in short term memory
  • Difficulty finding words
  • Mood changes
  • Apathy
  • Difficulty completing normal tasks
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Difficulty following story lines
  • Failing sense of direction.

Reduce the risk of dementia

Age remains the biggest risk factor for dementia, however, it is not a normal part of the ageing process. Ways of reducing the risk of getting dementia include:

  • Increased years of education and/or a cognitively active occupation and life
  • Avoid or immediate treatment of midlife or later life depression
  • Not smoking
  • Maintain healthy level of blood pressure and general vascular health
  • Take regular exercise – at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity per week
  • Keep socially engaged
  • Engage in complex cognitive activities that challenge you
  • Engaging in stimulating interests and hobbies
  • Have a healthy balanced diet – plenty of fish, fruit and vegetables
  • 7 to 8 hours of sleep daily, and avoiding or immediate treating obstructive sleep apnoea or chronic insomnia.
  • There is an expression – ‘what’s good for the heart is good for the brain’ – indicating that many of the activities and diets we adopt to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease may also impact our dementia risk.


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