© Danielle Robertson Consulting Pty Ltd t/as DR Care Solutions
September is World Alzheimer's Month, an international campaign raising awareness of dementia and challenging the stigma around it.
2021 marks the 10th year of September campaigning by Alzheimer's Disease International, with the highlight being the release of commissioned research on World Alzheimer's Day - the 21st of September.
This year's theme, "Know Dementia, Know Alzheimer's" encourages people to recognise the potential warning signs of dementia and understand the importance of a timely diagnosis.
The concern is that people ignore the warning signs due to the stigma associated with having the disease. As a result, patients lose valuable time in accessing drug and non-drug therapies that may alleviate symptoms and improve cognition.
They also lose time in planning ahead and having conversations with family and friends on what has changed and how they may help.
With the world in the grip of a global pandemic, Alzheimer's Disease International has voiced its concern that the social isolation of older people will see a worsening in the condition of those living with the disease. There is also concern that people are delaying a visit to their doctor, leaving their condition undiagnosed and losing available time in accessing early treatments. This is something I have really thought about, particularly during this extended lockdown.
What is dementia?
Dementia is a collective name for progressive degenerative brain syndromes which affect memory, thinking, behaviour and emotion. Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia are the most common types of dementia and are responsible for up to 90% of cases of dementia.
What are the symptoms of dementia?
Symptoms may include:
- Loss of memory.
- Difficulty in finding the right words or understanding what people are saying.
- Difficulty in performing previously routine tasks including activities of daily living.
- Personality and mood changes.
What is the difference between Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia?
Alzheimer's disease is a physical disease that affects the brain. Abnormal structures, called 'plaques' and 'tangles', build up inside the brain. These disrupt how nerve cells work and communicate with each other, and eventually cause them to die.
Vascular dementia is where a lack of oxygen to the brain causes nerve cells to die. This can be caused by a stroke, a series of mini strokes (also known as TIAs (transient ischemic attacks)) or a disease of the small blood vessels in the brain.
Is dementia just part of ageing?
While dementia is more common in people over 65 years of age, dementia is not a normal part of ageing, so getting a diagnosis early can help you take control and plan ahead.
How can I be tested for dementia?
There is currently no simple test for Alzheimer's disease and other dementias.
Doctors diagnose Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia using a combination of methods. They include:
- Examining the patient's medical history;
- Undertaking medical tests including blood, urine and genetic tests to cancel out any other causes for the symptoms of dementia;
- Examining a patient's brain scan;
- Working through memory tests with the patient; and
- During consultations, studying any changes in their thinking, day-to-day function and behaviour.
Using these methods, a diagnosis of dementia can be made with a high level of certainty. Depression needs to be ruled out prior to the diagnosis.
Currently, genetic testing is not a routine assessment measure as to whether you have dementia or will develop it. Such testing is only engaged where there is a history of younger onset dementia in the family - that is, where a person is diagnosed with dementia under the age of 65 years.
What to do if a loved one is showing early signs of dementia
If you are caring for someone showing early signs of dementia, please feel free to contact me, Danielle Robertson, at DR Care Solutions, for an initial discussion on putting in place supports that can improve the quality of life of your loved one and yourself.
Dementia Activity Poster
Download our Dementia Activity Poster filled with fun, suitable activities to do with your loved one living with dementia.
 Alzheimer's Disease International: World Alzheimer's Month
 For information and telephone support in Australia, contact Dementia Australia
 For information on stages of dementia, refer to my September 2020 blog: The Journey of Dementia
 Dementia Australia: Genetic Testing