Dementia Care at Athenree Lifecare


Understanding Dementia

Often still incorrectly called “senility” by many people, dementia effects up to 50,000 people in New Zealand.  The previous widely held belief that dementia is a natural consequence of getting old has been proved false, when it is in fact a serious medical condition. For each of those 50,000 people, there are friends, family, and Whānau that are also affected.

This page will help you to better understand both Alzheimer’s and Dementia.

What is Dementia?

Dementia is not a specific disease. Instead it is more of a descriptive term that describes a collection of symptoms affecting the brain. Memory, cognition, speech, behaviour and the ability to perform everyday activities are all affected by dementia. Dementia is progressive, meaning that it gradually gets worse, and then, eventually is terminal.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of dementia can vary widely, but the main characteristics will almost certainly include memory loss, loss of communication skills, reasoning skills and judgement. Confusion in normal situations and performing everyday tasks are also common.  Forgetting where things are, or even who people are, is also a symptom. Poor judgement in finances is something that needs to be watched out for, for example giving large amounts of money over the phone to telemarketers.

Is there a cure?

Unfortunately no. There is no cure for dementia, but medical advances are made every day around the world. There are a range of medications that can help with some of the symptoms, to improve memory for example, but every individual’s treatment is unique.

What’s the difference between Alzheimer’s and Dementia?

A simple way to think of it is this: Alzheimer’s is the disease and dementia is the symptom. It’s not necessary to have Alzheimer’s to suffer from dementia, but the disease accounts for approximately 70% of dementia sufferers. The other 30% are from other causes, with vascular dementia being the second most common. Vascular dementia is when the blood vessels in the brain block or restrict blood flow, denying the brain vital oxygen and nutrients. There are some causes of dementia that can be reversed, such as vitamin deficiencies or thyroid problems.

Alzheimer’s

In its simplest terms, Alzheimer’s  is a loss of brain cells. The loss of these brain cells affect the way you think and behave, particularly memory function. Alzheimer’s is the common most cause of Dementia, accounting for approximately 70% of cases.

What Causes Alzheimer’s?

The short answer is we simply don’t know yet.  However, as more and more research is conducted into Alzheimer’s, it’s becoming clear that there are many different factors which can contribute to the disease. Age obviously is the biggest factor, with family history, genetics and head trauma also all playing a part. Other factors such as diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure may also be a factor, but at this time the research is inconclusive. Women are also more likely to develop Alzheimer’s Disease.

What are the Symptoms of Alzheimer’s?

Alzheimer’s Disease can be broken down into three main stages.

  • Preclinical (no signs or symptoms yet)
  • Mild/slight cognitive impairment
  • Dementia

In stage 2 of the Disease, symptoms will include minor memory loss, slight confusion with times and places, difficulty with common tasks and small problems with language. Stage 3 will show a drastic increase in these symptoms, and also include changes in mood or behaviour, leading to changes in the persons personality.

Is there a cure?

Unfortunately not, no. However, there are medications that can help or slow down the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. The latest medication, occupational therapy and support from health care works, friends and family can all help people with Alzheimer’s.

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