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Dementia

Alzheimer's disease is probably the best known and certainly the most common form of dementia - accounting for more than 50% of all cases. However, dementia is not really a disease - it's a term used to describe the range of symptoms.

Dementia is usually irreversible and progressive. That means, for most people affected, the symptoms will gradually get worse over time. Currently, there is no cure for dementia; and in most cases there is no method to prevent dementia occurring.

That's not to say there is nothing you can do. Having a better understanding of the various forms and causes of dementia, and recognising the signs and symptoms, will help.

Most often the effects of dementia come on gradually and include problems with memory and thinking, changes in personality and mood, communication problems, and difficulty with everyday tasks.

With mild dementia the person may simply forget recent conversations or events. As the condition progresses the person may have difficulty recognising close friends or family. In severe dementia the person will need extensive support either at home or in hostel or nursing-home accommodation.

Most people with dementia are older, but it is important to remember that most older people do not get dementia.

Risk factors for dementia include smoking, strokes, heart disease, high cholesterol and hypertension.

Diabetes can increase the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease by 65%, however maintaining blood glucose levels within a healthy range can reduce this risk. Severe head injuries, (particularly those causing loss of consciousness) family history and high homocystine levels are other risk factors.

There are some medications, which can improve some dementias, and are available on prescription although they are expensive.

Vitamin E may slow the rate of decline in Alzheimer's disease. Homocysteine is a by-product of many metabolic reactions occurring in our body. Some studies have found that high homocysteine levels are associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer's disease and other dementias. Adequate intake of vitamin B and folate can help reduce homocysteine levels.

Ginkgo biloba may have a modest effect on mental function but can cause bleeding in people on aspirin.

Although researchers do not yet understand the processes that lead to dementia it appears that a healthy lifestyle can at least help delay its onset. For example, a healthy diet may be able to control risk factors such as high cholesterol levels and diabetes. Exercise may help manage cardiovascular risk factors, increase blood flow to the brain and stimulate nerve cell growth and survival. In general, what is good for the heart is also good for the mind. Active brains tend to remain free of dementia symptoms for longer - so keep your mind busy and working!

We have a Fact Card Alzheimer's Disease and Other Causes of Dementia and you can try the web site www.alzheimers.org.au

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This page last updated on November 10, 2004