A diagnosis of Dementia is life changing for both the individual with the disease and their family and loved ones.
Dementia is the name for a set of symptoms that can happen when brain cells are damaged. This prevents the cells from communicating normally with each other, which can affect thinking, emotions and behaviour.
Dementia symptoms include:
- Memory loss
- Problems with language and communication
- Trouble concentrating
- Difficult with reasoning, judgment or problem-solving
- Changes in behaviour, mood or motivation
- Problems with visual perception
These symptoms of mental decline are progressive, meaning that they gradually get worse. They can become severe enough to affect a person’s daily life and everyday activities. Over time, the individual requires more and more assistance, and eventually may need constant care and supervision.
Causes of dementia
Dementia has many causes. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common reason, causing about 60% to 80% of cases, followed by vascular dementia after a stroke, dementia with Lewy bodies and frontotemporal dementia. Other known causes include brain trauma, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease and other conditions. It’s possible to have more than one type of dementia; this is called mixed dementia.
Sometimes, dementia has a treatable or reversible cause, such as thyroid disease, mental illness, medications, drug or alcohol abuse, infections, metabolic disorders, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, environmental toxins, heart disease or brain tumours. Learn more about causes of dementia here.
Memory loss is not unusual in older adults. According to the Alzheimer Society of Canada, almost 40% of people over age 65 have some memory loss. If there isn’t a medical condition causing this symptom, it’s considered a normal part of aging (“age-associated memory impairment”).
Dementia mainly affects seniors, but it is not normal. Here are some examples of the differences between age-associated memory loss and dementia:
- Not being able to remember details of a conversation or event that took place a year ago.
- Not being able to remember the name of an acquaintance or family members
- Forgetting things and events occasionally
- Occasionally have difficulty finding words
- You are worried about your memory but your relatives are not
- Not being able to recall details of recent events or conversations.
- Not recognizing or knowing the names of family members.
- Forgetting things or events more frequently
- Frequent pauses and substitutions when finding words
- Your relatives are worried about your memory, but you are not aware of any problems
Source: Alzheimer Society of Canada
Alzheimer’s disease: A closer look at the most common cause of dementia
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disorder that causes irreversible changes in the brain. It causes a gradual decline in brain function as cells are damaged and destroyed. Alzheimer’s disease is fatal, and there is not yet a cure. Learn about how Alzheimer’s affects the brain.
Early warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease include:
- Memory loss that disrupts daily life. The most common early symptom of Alzheimer’s disease is memory loss, especially problems with short-term memory. People may also forget important dates and events, or repeatedly ask for the same information.
- Challenges in planning or solving problems. Some people experience changes in their ability to develop and follow a routine or plan, or have trouble managing their finances.
- Difficulties completing familiar tasks. Daily tasks, such as driving to familiar places, often become difficult.
- Confusion. People may lose track of dates, seasons and the passage of time. They may forget where they are or how they got there.
- Trouble understanding visual images or spatial relationships. People may have vision problems, including with difficulty reading, judging distance or determining colour and contrast.
- Problems with speaking or writing words. Individuals may have trouble joining or following a conversation. They may repeat themselves or have trouble finding words.
- Misplacing items and losing the ability to retrace steps. People with Alzheimer’s disease may put things in unusual places.
- Decreased or poor judgment. People with Alzheimer’s may experience poor judgment or decision-making. They may also pay less attention to grooming or taking care of themselves.
- Withdrawal from work or social activities. Individuals may avoid being social because of the changes they are experiencing.
- Changes in mood and personality. People with Alzheimer’s can become confused, depressed, fearful, anxious, suspicious or easily upset
A risk factor is something that increases your chances of developing a certain disease. There are two kinds of risk factors: non-modifiable (those we can’t change) and modifiable (those we can change).
Certain risk factors for Alzheimer’s are non-modifiable: older age, a family history of the disease and genetics. (Learn more about Alzheimer’s and genetics.) Age is the strongest risk factor: the longer you live, the higher your risk of Alzheimer’s disease. One in 20 Canadians over 65, and one in four Canadians over 85, lives with Alzheimer’s.
Many other risk factors are modifiable. According to the Alzheimer Society of Canada, “It has been estimated that up to half the cases of Alzheimer’s disease worldwide may be the result of seven key modifiable risk factors: diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, smoking, depression, cognitive inactivity or low education, and physical inactivity.”
You can maintain or improve your brain health with these tips:
- Diet: A well-balanced diet is important for your body and your brain. Learn about nutritious eating with Canada’s Food Guide.
- Mental exercise: Growing evidence suggests that regular mental calisthenics may help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by enhancing the mind’s resistance to damage.
- Physical exercise: What’s good for your heart is also good for your brain. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity at least five days per week. (Talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise program.)
- Stop smoking: Smoking is extremely damaging to the body and the brain.
- Stress management: Try to fix any underlying problems that are causing stress. Stress causes increased blood pressure, makes the heart beat faster and releases a hormone called cortisol (prolonged high levels of cortisol can have a negative effect on the body). To manage stress, try physical activities, breathing exercises, yoga or meditation.
Learn more about brain health.
After an Alzheimer’s diagnosis
An Alzheimer’s diagnosis can cause a wide range of emotions for individuals and their families – shock, anger, denial, anxiety, sadness, grief, loneliness, guilt or perhaps relief at learning the cause of distressing symptoms.
It’s important to educate yourself about the disease and find the support you need. The Alzheimer Society of Canada offers a wealth of information for people who are newly diagnosed, and for family members and caregivers.
Recently the Alzheimer Society launched the first ever Canadian Charter of Rights for people with dementia. The Charter defines seven explicit rights to ensure Canadians living with dementia know their rights, while empowering them to ensure their rights are protected and respected. The Charter also makes sure that people and organizations that support people with dementia know these rights.
Bayshore is pleased to provide health information to our clients and their families and caregivers. This information is not advice and should not be treated as such. For more information, please consult your doctor.
McGill University has launched a free new educational guide for people living with dementia and their care partners. This resource is available to view in English, French or Spanish. The Dementia Your Companion Guide was created by a multidisciplinary team at the McGill University Dementia Education Program (DEP) in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS). The content was provided by the Program’s founder and former care partner Ms. Claire Webster, geriatrician Dr. José A. Morais and neurologist Dr. Serge Gauthier, along with partners from the McGill University Research Centre for Studies in Aging, the Division of Geriatric Medicine, the School of Physical and Occupational Therapy, and the School of Social Work.
Alzheimer Society of Canada
The Alzheimer Society is the leading not-for-profit health organization working nationwide to improve the quality of life for Canadians affected by Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias and advance the search for the cause and cure.
The mission of the Alzheimer’s Association is to eliminate Alzheimer’s disease through the advancement of research; to provide and enhance care for all those affected; and to reduce the risk of dementia through the promotion of brain health.
Founded by Rachel Thompson, Marlena Books creates dementia friendly books to allow individuals with Alzheimer's and dementia to continue reading. Books are able to be read independently or used with friends, family, or support partners. They feature mature, engaging content at appropriate reading levels in order to ensure that readers can navigate throughout the books with ease. In addition to printed books, Marlena Books is also available as an app for the Apple iPad. The app includes accessibility features for those whose dementia has progressed, like automatic page turning and audio reading for people who can no longer read on their own. Check out our Q&A with Rachel Thompson.
Available on Google Play and at the App Store, Dynseo is a brain games platform for all ages. "Clint" offers challenging brain games to improve memory skills by exercising your memory, your attention, your concentration, while "Scarlett" offers brain games adapted for seniors with cognitive impairment.
Alzlive.com is a lifestyle and news platform for family caregivers of Alzheimer’s and dementia patients in the United States and Canada.
If you notice dementia symptoms in yourself or a loved one, consult your physician. He or she will conduct assessments and tests to determine the underlying cause(s).
Bayshore ResourcesHighlights in 2019 Dementia News
Virtual Reality: The Next Frontier for Dementia Care?
For the Love of Reading
Dementia Strategies: Tips for Communication
Survey reveals persistent stigma towards people with dementia
Driving and Dementia: when is it no longer safe
Innovations for Alzheimer’s and Dementia
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