“Before I became a doctor, I was a nurse. I distinctly remember working in the Emergency one morning and being asked to keep a ‘special eye’ on one of my patients. The patient was a lovely elderly woman with dementia. In her younger years – she had been the Medical Director of the Hospital – hence the VIP status. My care for her didn’t change – I treated her the way I would treat all my patients – with dignity and respect…But it was a painful reminder that dementia can affect ANYONE, from any walk of life.”
Worldwide, there are over 46 million people who have dementia. Dr Dale Garred, one of our female GPs at Manly Village Medical talks to us about dementia and what you should do if you think you or someone you love has signs of dementia.
What is ‘Dementia’
Dementia is the term used to describe the symptoms of a large group of illnesses that all cause a progressive decline in a person’s functioning.
It is a broad term used to describe
● Loss of memory
● Loss of social skills and ability to perform everyday tasks
● Personality Change
“It is normal to occasionally forget appointments or a friend’s phone number, but memory loss associated with dementia will most likely be persistent and progressive, not just occasional” says Dr Garred.
What causes Dementia?
Dementia is a symptom, not a disease. The symptom is present in any illness that causes neurological degeneration.
There are more than 100 conditions that have dementia as a symptom. The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease (AKA Alzheimer’s Dementia).
In dementia caused by Alzheimer’s Disease, proteins are broken down incorrectly, causing deposits (plaques) and tangled bundles of fibres to develop in the brain.
This material disrupts messages within the brain, damaging connections between brain cells. The brain cells eventually die and this means that the information can’t be recalled.
Other common causes of dementia apart from Alzheimer’s Disease include
● Vascular dementia e.g damage to brain cells due to chronic high blood pressure
● Alcohol related dementia
● Parkinson’s Disease
Are you at risk?
Most people with dementia are older, however it is not considered a normal part of ageing. Similarly, dementia can occasionally affect people in their 40s and 50s.
Risk factors for dementia include
● High Blood pressure
● Elevated cholesterol
● Obesity/Physical inactivity
● Previous head injury or trauma
● Family history (some causes of dementia are inherited)
● Social isolation
Close attention to risk factors described above may help to delay the onset of dementia. Your doctor can talk to you about assessing for and addressing these risk factors.
At Manly Village Medical our doctors recommend the following to reduce your risk of dementia:
● Stop smoking
● Eat fruit and vegetables every day of the week
● Exercise at a moderate intensity for 2.5 hours per week, eg. brisk walking, swimming, Tai Chi
● Have regular social engagement and interaction
● Perform cognitive training exercises/activities
How do we diagnose dementia?
There is no single diagnostic test for dementia. The diagnosis relies on clinical assessment, including office-based memory tests performed by your GP and some blood tests to exclude reversible causes of cognitive impairment e.g. anaemia or vitamin deficiencies.
How can your GP Help?
Early symptoms of dementia can vary a lot from person to person and may not be immediately obvious.
If are worried that you or someone you care for may have dementia, visit your doctor as soon as possible.
Early diagnosis is important to empower you to make plans to live well with the condition and to access appropriate care, support and information.
If you have dementia, your doctor should discuss with you
● Organising support services and referring you for extra support if required e.g. through My Aged Care (www.myagedcare.gov.au)
● Perform a medication review and consider discontinuing medications that might exacerbate memory loss
● Assist with future planning including
o Completing and Advanced Health Directive
o Establishing Health and Financial Attorney’s
o Establishing a Will
If you have any concerns that you or one of your loved one’s may be at risk of dementia OR you would like to complete an Advanced Health Directive you should visit your doctor.
Patients who are over the age of 75 are eligible for a YEARLY bulk billed Health Assessment. This longer appointment assesses for Dementia and other illnesses more common in elderly patients.