Thursday, 8 October 2015 5:00:00 PM Australia/Melbourne

When life's challenges include memory loss or dementia, your perceptions, relationships and priorities inevitably shift. Dementia is one of the most common disorders affecting cognitive function, especially for older people, with more than 332,000 Australians currently living with the symptoms.

Definitions of cognitive disability are usually broad, as persons with cognitive disabilities may have difficulty with various types of mental tasks. Cognitive impairment describes any characteristic that acts as a barrier to normal cognitive function – a reduction in intellectual performance or a specific learning disorder or impairment.

Many cognitive disabilities have a base in physiological or biological processes within the individual, such as a genetic disorder or a traumatic brain injury. Other cognitive disabilities may be based in the chemistry or structure of the person's brain. Persons with more profound cognitive disabilities often need assistance with aspects of daily living. Persons with minor learning disabilities might be able to function adequately despite their disability, maybe to the point where their disability is never diagnosed or noticed.

Dementia is one of the most common types of cognitive impairment, especially in older Australians. 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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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