Brain awareness week

By Dr Chloe Kindred

Earlier this month, we recognized Brain Awareness week which is a global initiative to promote awareness of brain health. One of the common conditions affecting the brain in Australia is dementia – you probably have a relative who has, or know of someone who has, dementia.

What is dementia?

Dementia is not one single disease – it is an umbrella term that groups together a number of types of dementia affecting the brain that cause quite similar symptoms. The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s, but Lewy Body dementia, vascular dementia, and Parkinson’s disease are also types. It is more common over the age of 65, but some people can have dementia as early as their 40s or 50s – this is relatively rare.

What are the symptoms?

Dementia affects how the person thinks, behaves, and their ability to perform their day to day activities. Early symptoms can be subtle, with some mild confusion, vagueness, and memory loss. These are often noticed by family members well before the person with dementia notices them – and it can be a delicate subject to bring up. People with dementia, as a result of the condition, can have trouble realizing they are affected and they may deny that there is a problem.

What should I do if I think a loved one may have dementia, or if I’m worried that I do?

It’s easy to make an assumption that because some of the symptoms of dementia are present, that your loved one has dementia. However, these symptoms are shared by other, often treatable, medical conditions, so it’s important to take a thorough look. Your GP is a good first port of call, and they will ask detailed questions about the symptoms and arrange appropriate investigations to find the cause. Sometimes a referral to neurologist, geriatrician, or psychiatrist may be required.

How is dementia treated, and how can I reduce my risk of getting it?

Currently, there is no cure for dementia. There are some medications that have been found to help reduce the symptoms, but the support of family members is invaluable to those with dementia. Your GP will coordinate and lead a team of health professionals who will be committed to assisting your loved one and your family through the journey of dementia.

The good news is that are several things you can do to reduce your risk of dementia – and you may be doing them already! Eating a balanced diet including fish, vegetables, and limited saturated fats, exercising for half an hour most days, limiting alcohol to two drinks per day, seeing friends and socializing regularly, having regular preventative check ups with your GP (which can include cholesterol and blood glucose tests) and not smoking are some of the ways you can reduce your risk of developing dementia later on in life.

Please come in and see us if you are concerned about yours or your loved one’s brain health, or would like some support in establishing good habits. You can read more about dementia and brain health here:

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