Dementia

Dementia is the term used when a person experiences a gradual loss of brain function due to physical changes in the structure of their brain.

Summary

Dementia is not a normal part of the ageing process. However, it is more common for people over the age of 65, but can affect people as young as 45.

There are many causes of dementia, but the most common is Alzheimer’s disease. Other causes include vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies and fronto-temporal dementia.

A person can have a combination of different causes of dementia. Each cause tends to affect particular areas of the brain and will cause different changes in a person’s behaviour.


Related websites

Alzheimers New Zealand

Bupa provides dementia support information.

Carers NZ provides help for family, whānau and aiga carers of family members or friends.

Eldernet provides timely, relevant information about services for older people in New Zealand.

Alzheimer’s Disease International 
Global information on Alzheimers Disease, with tools and resources for coping with Alzheimers.

Alzheimer’s Society (UK)

Best Health
Best Health is part of the medical publishing division of the British Medical Association.


Find out more from the Ministry

Improving the lives of people with dementia describes how the Ministry will help people with dementia over the next 3 years.

Symptoms

Because dementia is a gradual disease a person’s symptoms will increase over time. Dementia symptoms include:

  • loss of memory
  • impaired reasoning
  • reduced language skills
  • loss of daily living skills.

People with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease can become very forgetful and easily confused – they can sometimes forget what day it is or what they did yesterday. As a result people with dementia may display behavioural and emotional problems.

People with dementia don’t all have the same experience, as symptoms can occur in different combinations and the rate of deterioration varies. Over time most functions of the brain are affected. Eventually, people with dementia may need help with daily activities like dressing, toileting, showering and eating.

The BestHealth website has information about the 3 stages of Alzheimer’s disease – mild, moderate and severe – which are based on how severe the symptoms are.

Treatment

While there is not usually a cure for dementia, there are medications and lifestyle or dietary changes that may slow down the onset of the symptoms. 

If you or someone you know has dementia, it is important to know that you are not alone. Getting help, support and advice at an early stage can make a big difference and there are many people and places to provide this for you.

Diagnosis

While forgetting where you placed the car keys is normal, forgetting how to carry out daily tasks is not. If you are concerned about your memory, or that of someone close to you, it’s important to see your GP. You could be experiencing memory loss that is not related to dementia and is treatable, as memory loss can have other causes such as stress, depression, diabetes or side effects of medication.

If memory loss is due to dementia it is important to get an early diagnosis. An early diagnosis of dementia can help you to get the best benefit from current treatments that are available. It will also help you to plan for the future and get the right support and advice.

Prevention

There is no way of knowing whether you will get dementia or not. However, there are lifestyle changes you can make that could prevent you from getting dementia.

  • Exercise your brain. Do crosswords, word puzzles, Sudoku, or play games like bridge and scrabble. 
  • Exercise your body. Having a healthy body has a direct impact on the brain. Aim to do at least 15 minutes of aerobic or resistance exercise a day.
  • Eat well. Healthy food is good for your brain – ensure you get your 5 servings of fruit and vegetables a day and include omega oils in your diet.
  • Drink less and quit smoking. These can be contributing factors to the onset of dementia.
  • Socialise. Being socially active may minimise your chances of getting dementia.

Living with

If you have dementia

If you have dementia you will be able to cope relatively well in the early stages, with support from family and friends, and small lifestyle changes. You may cope with basic support and changes for a number of months or years. However, over time your symptoms and abilities will get worse and you will need to get increased support and make lifestyle changes

The early stages of dementia is a good time to find out what support and choices are available to you, so you can plan for the future. As your symptoms increase, you will be less able to make these decisions.

Looking after someone with dementia

If you’re looking after someone with dementia, you need to get lots of support. There is a lot of information available to help you in your caring role. There are a number of practical hints to problems that can help you when you are caring for a person with dementia. Organisations, such as Alzheimers New Zealand and Bupa Care provide helpful advice on how to cope, what to expect, and what is likely to happen in the future.

Back to top