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Unpacking Dementia

Unpacking Dementia

We are hearing about and engaging with more and more people being diagnosed with dementia. This can be attributed to greater awareness and education about the disease, courageous high-profile people around the world sharing their diagnosis and basically bringing it out into the open.

Dementia affects one in 20 over the age of 65 and one in five over the age of 80. About 20% of people over the age of 80 develop dementia – 1:5 and at age 85+ 1:3 indicating that age is a risk factor. There are diagnosed cases of early-onset dementia which occur before the age of 65.

Dementia affects 50 million people worldwide, with a new case of dementia occurring somewhere in the world every 3 seconds. Dementia can also affect individuals under the age of 65 (young onset dementia). Greater awareness and understanding of dementia is important to challenge the myths and misconceptions that surround the condition.

The myth exists that declining memory and impaired cognitive skills are a result of old age. This is untrue – dementia is not a normal part of ageing.  Age is an important risk factor, but it is not the only one. There are a number of other medical conditions, which are treatable and reversible, which can result in memory impairment. These can include thyroid problems, vitamin deficiencies, it is therefore essential to have memory difficulties checked out by a General Practitioner/doctor, especially if these are affecting daily life and causing frustration and anxiety.

Dementia vs.Alzheimer’s Disease & Other Dementias

Globally the overall term of dementia is now more widely used to describe dementias of the Alzheimer’s-type.  There are over 100 different types of dementia – Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most commonly diagnosed dementia, then Vascular dementia (VaD), mixed dementia which is a combination of AD and VaD – then rarer types of dementia being Lewy Body Dementia, Creutzfeldt Jakob (Mad Cow’s) disease, Frontal Lobe Dementia (including Pick’s disease), HIV-AIDS Neurocognitive Dementia etc.

Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by tau protein deposits and amyloidal plaques and tangles.

What are some of the warning signs of dementia?

Dementia is a progressive, degenerative disease that affects your entire being. Daily tasks or activities of daily living (ADL’s) become difficult to handle and it affects mental, physical, emotional and social spheres of life.

The first symptoms and the steady progression of dementia vary from person to person.  One person with dementia is one person with dementia – it is important to treat the person as an individual.  Not all the symptoms listed below manifest in all people diagnosed with dementia.

  • Challenges with memory including memory loss is one of the first signs especially for recent events;
  • Misplacing objects or forgetfulness
  • Getting lost or disorientated, especially in new environments
  • Difficulty finding the right words to explain, describe or name objects
  • Poor concentration or loss of initiative in previous interests or hobbies
  • Poor judgement and thinking abilities such a planning activities and sequencing e.g. laying a table
  • Psychological mood changes, irritation, heightened anxiety, becoming suspicious or aggressive
  • Inappropriate language or responses to situations
  • Personality changes
  • Misinterpretation of events

As the disease progresses, further intellectual, behavioural, physical and sometimes social challenges are experienced, affecting speech, language, mobility, continence, frailty, general daily living skills and communication.

Communication difficulties will increase and these can include: confusing the past reality with present reality, problems remembering normal routines, appointments and services, communicating thoughts and feelings, varying awareness levels and sometimes disorientation and difficulty understanding physical and social environments.

Most forms of dementia cannot be cured, although research all over the world is continuing to develop drugs, vaccines and treatments. Drugs have been developed that can temporarily alleviate some of the symptoms of some types of dementia, particularly for moderate stages. Those that are currently available only slow down the progression of the disease but it cannot be cured.

In our next newsletter we will look at why a diagnosis is important and some of the challenges that can arise within families after a diagnosis of a dementia.

DEMENTIA SA is a leading provider of information, support, training and advocacy – contact them on 0860 636 679 or email

The DementiaSA website is very informative too –

Join DementiaSA on Facebook (@DementiaSA) and Instagram (@dementia_sa_national)

At Macadamia Care in Limpopo and Mpumalanga, our Assisted Living service affords our residents an independent lifestyle in the comfort of their own home, or apartment, with tailored levels of support by our highly trained nurses and caregivers, as and when it is required. Added to this, we provide Frail Care services for more extreme cases of physical or mental frailty – such as Alzheimer’s.


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