Understanding dementia

2017-09-20 06:01

SEPTEMBER, as World Alzheimer’s Month, was launched in 2012. This international campaign is used as a platform to create awareness about dementia and challenge stigma. According to Alzheimer’s Disease International, there are almost 50 million people living with dementia worldwide and this figure is set to treble by 2050.

Dementia is a collective name for progressive degenerative brain syndromes which affect memory, thinking, behaviour and emotion. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and specifically affects the short term memory in the early stages.

Symptoms include memory loss, disorientation with time and place, difficulty with language, challenges performing familiar tasks as well as personality and mood changes.

Some illnesses and infections, such as a UTI, dehydration or depression can present with similar symptoms to that of dementia.

The doctor would first rule out any physical causes of the symptoms before starting to look at the possibility of dementia.

An early diagnosis allows families to seek medical support and care, to plan ahead, to sort out finances, Wills, express their wishes for the future and allow them time to spend quality time with their loved ones.

It is important to remember that there is a natural ageing process and forgetfulness and slowed reactions are to be expected. From the age of about 30 our brains gradually shrink as a result of decreased blood flow, and although mental function becomes slower, it usually remains good.

Dementia, however, is not a part of normal ageing. Although dementia is not a preventable or curable disease, there are certain things we can do to decrease our risk of developing dementia:

• look after your heart;

• be physically active;

• follow a healthy diet;

• keep your brain stimulated; and

• be involved in social activities

We all have a role to play in de-stigmatising dementia and creating an environment of awareness, acceptance and support.

We need to educate our friends, our families and our communities that dementia is an illness that can affect anyone – it does not discriminate.

If you are concerned that you or a loved one may have some of the symptoms it is recommended that you make an appointment with your doctor.

Dementia does not have to be a lonely disease and there is support available to people journeying with this.

Contact details for the Alzheimer’s offices are 031 702 4321 (Pinetown) or 033 396 1011 (Pietermaritzburg­).

- Kim Hellberg, registered social worker, Alzheimer’s South Africa

Symptoms include memory loss, disorientation with time and place, difficulty with
language, challenges performing familiar tasks as well as personality and mood changes

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