As we get older, it takes us longer to learn new things and to recall information. Many of us worry that each time we struggle to remember a name, a word or an event, that this could be the first sign of Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia.
Dementia is not a normal part of aging; only one per cent of people with age-related memory loss develop dementia. It's an abnormal degeneration of the brain that leads to changes in a person’s ability to think, speak, socialize and take part in normal daily activities.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, followed by vascular dementia, Lewy bodies and frontotemporal lobe dementia. Dementia affects about two per cent of Canadians age 65 to 74 and 35 per cent of those over 85.
Signs & Symptoms
The early signs of dementia are very subtle—often not involving memory loss—and hard to detect. The early signs of dementia can sometimes be triggered by depression, medication, nutritional disorders and numerous other medical conditions. Dementia develops at different rates in different people.
People with dementia are likely to have at least a few of the following signs:
forgetting appointments or a friend’s name and not being able to remember them later
losing their way in familiar places, not knowing what time of day it is
having difficulty finding words, using the wrong words in a sentence
experiencing problems with familiar tasks like making a meal
exhibiting poor or impaired judgment, such as dressing inappropriately for the weather
losing abstract thinking skills, such as not knowing how to read a bank statement
misplacing familiar objects or putting them in the wrong place
experiencing changes in mood, such as quickly shifting from laughter to tears to shouting
exhibiting changes in personality, such as becoming uncharacteristically irritable, suspicious or fearful
losing the desire to carry out simple but important day-to-day activities.
Whatever the cause of the dementia, symptoms may include:
loss of understanding or judgment
decreased ability to make decisions
changes in how the person expresses their emotions
changes in personality
problems coping with daily living
problems with speech and understanding language
Causes & Risk Factors
The risk of developing dementia increases with age.
Diagnosis & Treatment
Detecting dementia early and identifying the specific type is crucial for providing proper care. An early diagnosis also gives you, your family and friends time to prepare and connect with the right resources to help maintain your independence.
While there's no cure for dementia, keeping your brain active may help delay the effects of dementia and prolong independence. Reading, learning a new skill, and staying physically active and socially connected are all concrete steps to staying mentally and physically healthy for as long as possible.
As dementia progresses, different parts of the brain are affected leading to a range of changes and diminishing abilities. From what we know of dementia, abilities that are lost do not then return. Memory-enhancing drugs may be able to maintain memory for a period of time.
If you or a loved one are diagnosed with dementia:
Focus on the things you can do, rather than on the things you can no longer do.
Stay involved in activities that give you pleasure and that have meaning for you.
Stay physically active and eat a healthy diet.
Plan for the future so that your wishes can be respected.
Reach out for support, both from family and close friends, and from community services that help people maintain their independence and dignity.
Learn about dementia to find out what to expect and about strategies that can help you live the fullest life possible.
Acknowledge that living with dementia can be difficult.