Dementia is one of the most deadly, prevalent disease types throughout the world today and most people have heard of the term, however- what does ‘dementia’ actually mean?
According to Dementia Australia (1), dementia is an umbrella term which describes and encompasses a collection of symptoms that are caused by several disorders which affect the brain. This disease type typically affects multifarious aspects of one’s ability to function, such as limiting the ability to think properly, memorise information, communicate verbally or physically, negatively affecting one’s judgement and behaviour, and causing difficulty in completing everyday tasks. Simply, dementia is the gradual deterioration of functioning, leaving those diagnosed to suffer immensly until their brain is ultimately destroyed by the disease.
Figure 1: This is the ‘Umbrella of Dementia’, which symbolises dementia as an ‘umbrella term’ which describes a collection of symptoms that affect the brain (6).
There are approximately 100 different types of dementia discovered, with six main forms of dementia accounting for the majority of all diagnoses. The six main types of dementia include (2):
Lewy Body dementia
Younger onset dementia
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, accounting for up to 70% of all confirmed dementia diagnoses and can affect anyone at any age. This disease is known to severely damage the brain over time, resulting in impaired memory, cognitive function and behaviour (3). Vascular dementia is the second most common disease type, accounting for up to 17% of all dementia cases , and is the broad term for dementia associated with problems of circulation of blood to the brain (2) (4).
“We’re really a composite of our life experiences – memory layered upon memory and Alzheimer’s steals that away.”
– Meryl Comer (7)
Dementia is a terminal illness, with no current effective cure and no way to appropriately slow the progression of the disease. The largest risk factor for most dementia types is aging, with three in ten people over age 85 in Australia having dementia. It is most common to be affected by a type of dementia from age 65 with one in ten Australian’s currently suffering, however injuries- commonly within the head region, or diseases such as Parkinsons disease which affect brain function can also be common instigators for dementia to occur. (5).
By being Australia’s second leading cause of death and the first leading cause of death of women in 2016, it is common for people to be aware of the disease, but not aware of the tribulations it causes. Affecting over 50 million people worldwide, dementia types are painfully prevalent, with millions of families and caregivers devoting their time to care for patients despite the heartbreak that it brings (5). Scientists and researchers worldwide have been researching this disease for several years, desperate to discover a reliable treatment and cure, however nothing has yet been confirmed as effective in curing or treating the disease type.
Furthermore, dementia is a term to describe the symptoms of the fierce, terminal diseases which affect an overhwelming amount of people around the world, and with no cure in sight, it is time to start mentioning dementia to raise awareness, and to gain further knowledge to eventually beat this disease!
(6) Swaffer, K & Low, LF. (2016). “Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or another dementia: A practical guide for what’s next for people with dementia, their families and care partners”, New Holland Publishers: Sydney, p 17.