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Cape Byron Medical Centre

DEMENTIA IN AUSTRALIA – FACTS, DEFINITION & CAUSES OF DEMENTIA

With dementia being the second leading cause of deaths in Australians, a national awareness-campaign by Dementia Australia this month is putting the spotlight on this growing disease.

This year’s dementia awareness theme is ‘Small actions can make a big difference’. It’s estimated there are nearly 426,000 (191,367 (45%) males, 234,049 (55%) females) Australians living with dementia and an estimated 1.2 million Australians involved in their care.

According to statistics from Dementia Australia, the national peak body for people living with all forms of dementia, the disease contributed to 5.4 percent of all deaths in males and 10.6 percent of deaths in females. In 2016 dementia became the leading cause of death among Australian females, surprisingly surpassing heart disease. “Without a medical breakthrough, the number of people with dementia is expected to increase to 536,164 by 2025 and almost 1,100,890 by 2056,” Dementia Australia said.

SO WHAT IS DEMENTIA?

Dementia is described as a collection of symptoms that are caused by disorders affecting the brain. Dementia can affect thinking, behaviour and therefore the ability to perform everyday tasks.

While it’s well known that dementia mainly affects older people, not all ageing Australians will get the disease. It’s more common after the age of 65, but it’s important to note that younger people in their 40s and 50s can also get the disease. Often called a life-limiting condition, the life expectancy of a person with dementia depends on several things including the type of dementia they have, their age and health. People have been known to live with dementia for as long as 26 years.

WHAT CAUSES DEMENTIA? IS IT INHERITED?

There are many different forms of dementia and causes. These can include Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies, Fronto Temporal Lobar Degeneration (FTLD), Huntington’s disease, alcohol-related dementia (Korsakoff’s syndrome) and Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease.

Most forms of dementia are not considered to be hereditary, however every case is unique and the factors depend on the particular cause of dementia. It’s important to see your medical practitioner early if you are concerned about the risk of inheriting dementia. Seeing your doctor early when symptoms first appear is crucial. Early diagnosis will mean early access to help, support, information, education and medication should it be treatable.

WHAT ARE THE EARLY SIGNS OF DEMENTIA?

Dementia can be difficult to diagnose as the early signs of the disease are often vague and may not be immediately obvious to the person affected, their family or friends. However, if you are suffering from any of the following symptoms including progressive and frequent memory loss, confusion, personality changes, apathy and withdrawal and a loss of ability to perform everyday tasks, you should consult your GP.

WHAT CAN BE DONE TO HELP?

Unfortunately, there is no prevention nor cure for most forms of dementia, but some medications have been found to help with some of the symptoms.

The most important thing for people living with dementia is support and understanding. Help from friends, relatives and carers as well as the medical profession are vital in making a positive difference for those people living with this debilitating disease.

People living with dementia should keep their mind stimulated and if possible learn a new activity. Keeping active, both physically and mentally, is important, as is continued social contact. Promoting self-esteem and empowering the patient can give people living with dementia some much needed dignity.

WANT TO GET INVOLVED IN DEMENTIA AWARENESS MONTH?

Dementia Awareness month aims to encourage all Australians to become more aware of dementia, to get a better understanding of what it is like to live with dementia and how we can support people living with the disease.

There are many ways for people to get involved with the national awareness campaign. These can include finding a local event scheduled during September, becoming a dementia friend, showing your support and learning more about dementia. Having a good relationship with your local GP is paramount for people living with dementia. Your doctor can recommend support to help you manage the disease.

The professional, caring staff at Cape Byron Medical Centre are there to help you.