About Alzheimer’s and Dementia
Alzheimer’s and Dementia is not a normal part of ageing!
What is Dementia?
Dementia is often incorrectly referred to as “senility” which reflects the widespread but incorrect belief that serious mental decline is a normal part of ageing. Dementia is not a specific disease, but rather a broad umbrella term for a variety of symptoms that may accompany or indicate certain progressive diseases or conditions which is severe enough to reduce a person’s ability to perform every day activities, often accompanied by mental decline and changes with social behavior. People usually think that Dementia and Alzheimer’s are interchangeable terms but they are not the same. Today over 60 different conditions are known to cause Dementia symptoms. The most common form of Dementia is Alzheimer’s whilst Vascular Dementia, which occurs after a stroke, is the second most common Dementia type. However, regardless of which type of Dementia is diagnosed, each person’s Dementia experience will different and unique.
Symptoms of Dementia
If your loved one is experiencing memory problems, do not immediately conclude that it’s Dementia.
A person needs to have at least two types of mental impairment that interferes with every day activities to receive a Dementia diagnosis:
- Communication and language
- Ability to focus and pay attention
- Reasoning and judgment
- Visual perception and spatial orientation
Changes in short term memory
One of the early symptoms of Dementia usually is trouble with memory. The decline is subtle and involves short term memory such as forgetting where they kept an item, remembering appointments or what they were supposed to do in a given day or why they entered a particular room or went to the shop.
Difficulty finding the right words and following storylines
Aphasia is an inability to use or understand words. Aphasia affects people with Dementia which makes it difficult for them to find the “right words” to express their thoughts, understanding and following a conversation, reading and comprehending reading words, writing words and using numbers. One of the classic examples is difficulty in following a TV program.
Apathy, listlessness or a lack of interest in life activities and/or interacting with others is a common symptom of Dementia. A person with Dementia may lose interest in hobbies or activities that they used to enjoy, going out or spending time with family and friends.
Difficulty with routine tasks
Decline in cognitive ability may initially involve subtle changes such as an ability to complete normal and routine tasks such as paying the bills, may indicate someone has early stage Dementia. On top of this, they may struggle to follow new routines or learn how to do new things.
Personality and mood changes
You may notice changes in mood or personality of a loved one. From being a shy to outgoing person or increased anxiety and depression are common symptoms of Dementia onset as a judgment is affected.
Becoming lost or disoriented in familiar places, even within their own homes or disorientation to date, time of day or even the year. The deterioration of visual perception and spatial orientation with the onset of Dementia also makes it difficult for the person with Dementia to follow step-by-step instructions or directions.
Someone with Dementia may become easily confused. As they have trouble with memory, thinking and judgment, confusion arises as they can no longer remember the right faces, names or find the right words to interact with people socially.
Difficulty with coordination and balance
Shuffling, unsteady gait and/ or balance, leaning patterns, decrease in physical strength and coordination are fairly common symptoms of Dementia as areas of the brain responsible for movement and balance are affected.
With memory loss and behavioural changes, repetition of same daily task such as shaving and showering, repeatedly asking the same questions or the or obsessively collecting and hoarding items are common symptoms.
Adjusting to changes
As persons with Dementia cannot remember people they know, follow conversations, where and why they are in a certain place, the experience can cause fear and anxiety. Because of this, they experience great difficulty when attempting to do new things. Thus, people who have Dementia thrive on routine as the structure and consistency provides a sense of familiarity and comfort.
Many of these symptoms are progressive, meaning symptoms start out slowly but gradually get worse. If your loved ones are experiencing memory difficulties or other changes described above, do not ignore them. Consult a doctor or geriatrician for professional evaluation.
Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is the most common type of Dementia and accounts for approximately 60 to 80 percent of all cases of Dementia. One of the main features of AD is the presence of abnormal clumps (amyloid plagues) and tangled fibres (neurofibrillary, or tau, tangles). Another key feature of AD is the loss of connections between nerve cells
(neurons) in the brain. Neurons transmit messages between different parts of the brain, and from the brain to muscles and organs in the body.
According to ADFM (Alzheimer’s Disease Foundation Malaysia), it is “estimated that there are currently 50,000 people who have the disease. However, most of them are not diagnosed. This is because relatives think that the symptoms displayed are a normal part of growing old and thus do not seek medical advice on it.”