What is dementia

This section explains the term dementia, Who gets dementia? What are some of the causes? Signs? And the help available for managing dementia.

What is dementia?

Dementia describes a collection of symptoms that are caused by disorders affecting the brain.  It is not one specific disease.  Dementia affects thinking, behaviour and the ability to perform everyday tasks.  Brain function is affected enough to interfere with the person’s normal social or working life.

Who gets dementia?

Most people with dementia are older, but it is important to remember that not all older people get dementia. It is not a normal part of ageing. Dementia can happen to anybody, but it is more common after the age of 65 years. People in their 40s and 50s can also have dementia.

What causes dementia?

There are many different forms of dementia and each has its own causes.The most common types of dementia are; Alzheimer's disease, Vascular dementia, Parkinson's disease, Dementia with Lewy bodies, Fronto Temporal Lobar Degeneration (FTLD), Huntington's disease, Alcohol related dementia (Korsakoff's syndrome) and Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease.

Is it dementia?

There are a number of conditions that produce symptoms similar to dementia. These include some vitamin and hormone deficiencies, depression, medication clashes or overmedication, infections and brain tumours. It is essential that a medical diagnosis is obtained at an early stage when symptoms first appear to ensure that a person who has a treatable condition is diagnosed and treated correctly. If the symptoms are caused by dementia, an early diagnosis will mean early access to support, information, and medication should it be available.

Can dementia be inherited?

This will depend on the cause of the dementia, so it is important to have a firm medical diagnosis. If there are concerns about the risk of inheriting dementia, consult your doctor or contact Alzheimer's Australia to speak to a counsellor. Most cases of dementia are not inherited.

What are the early signs of dementia?

The early signs of dementia are very subtle and vague and may not be immediately obvious. Some common symptoms may include:

  • Progressive and frequent memory loss
  • Confusion
  • Personality change
  • Apathy and withdrawal
  • Loss of ability to perform everyday tasks.

What can be done to help?

At present there is no prevention or cure for most forms of dementia. However, some medications have been found to reduce some symptoms. Support is vital for people with dementia and the help of families, friends and carers can make a positive difference to managing the condition.

For a range of books and videos contact our Library. Also see our section on Help Sheets and Update Sheets.

© Alzheimer's Australia 2005

Alzheimer's Australia is responsible for the content of this Help Sheet. This publication provides a general summary only of the subject matter covered. People should seek professional advice about their specific case. Alzheimer's Australia is not liable for any error or omission in this publication.