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What is Dementia?

Dementia care

Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe the deterioration of brain function and activity resulting in the loss of memory, reduced language skills, impaired reasoning and loss of daily living skills. The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s Disease.

Currently, there are around 70,000 New Zealanders living with a diagnosis of dementia, and this number is expected to almost triple by 2050 (World Alzheimer Report 2021).

Is there a cure for dementia?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for the conditions that cause dementia. However, it’s important to get an early diagnosis because there are treatments available for mild to moderate levels of dementia.

Also, once you know the situation, this may help you eliminate that sense of uncertainty, begin planning ahead and looking to the future with more confidence and knowledge.

What signs should I look for?

There are many common symptoms of dementia, but they affect different people in different ways depending on the specific condition causing the dementia, and its progression.

  • Memory loss, especially of more recent events. Something out of the ordinary, like the names of the person’s children.
  • Difficulty with navigation, especially in familiar surroundings.
  • Trouble finding the correct words to use or understanding what people are saying.
  • Poor concentration.
  • Difficulty with thinking, such as using logic in discussion.
  • Misjudgements in depth perception, like missing the edge of the chair when attempting to sit down.
  • Physical changes, such as difficulty with movement doing daily chores.
  • Psychological and personality changes like becoming irritable, saying or doing inappropriate things, becoming suspicious or being distressed.
  • The later stages of dementia feature severe cognitive, behavioural and physical problems including loss of speech, immobility, incontinence and frailty.

How is dementia diagnosed?

If you are concerned, it is important to seek help from your GP as soon as possible to get a diagnosis. There is no concrete way to determine if someone has a brain disease so you have to rule out other likely causes first. To do this, there are a series of tests and procedures.

  • Cognitive abilities are assessed to measure memory, language skills and concentration.
  • Blood and urine tests can help to exclude some causes of confusion and memory loss.
  • Brain changes can be investigated through a Computerised Tomography (CT) or Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan.

The results of these tests are used in combination with the individual’s symptoms and any other medical conditions to make a diagnosis.