When an older family member starts showing signs of forgetting things and being confused, we write it off as a normal part of aging. Because we’re afraid of what might be happening, we tend to ignore it and hope it will go away. That is until we’re confronted by the fact that the person is no longer able to care for themselves.
Dementia is not a normal part of aging. It is a degenerative disease of the brain which gets progressively worse over time. Changes in brain tissue can be identified. While it’s mostly seen in persons over 65, it can also affect younger people. There are many types of dementia, but Alzheimer’s is the most common, affecting 50-80% of all sufferers
Currently, more than 50 million people across the world suffer from dementia. With the aging population, it’s estimated that this will increase to 152 million by 2050 – a global epidemic.
Alzheimer’s cannot be cured, but ongoing research has already identified measures that can slow down progression. Early recognition of the signs of dementia, actively talking about it, and breaking down the fear is important. This will empower the sufferer, family and friends to gather information, get medical advice and other support early on, and make plans for the future.
This is why the theme for World Alzheimer’s Day on September 21 is “Let’s talk about dementia: End the stigma”. Communication is necessary to advance awareness, care and scientific research across the world.
Warning signs of Alzheimer’s are loss of memory, difficulty with finding the right words for things, inability to think and plan, and not recognizing common objects, people and places they know well. Most often there are also changes in the person’s personality and mood.
Can dementia be prevented? Research is showing that a healthy lifestyle seems to reduce the risk of developing dementia – eating a balanced, healthy diet; being physically active; managing stress; keeping your brain active throughout life by learning new things, and staying socially connected with family and friends.
The Alzheimer’s South Africa website (alzheimers.org.za) is a valuable resource for information about dementia. It covers a wide range of topics one should consider, going forward.