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What is dementia?

Dementia is not one specific disease, but rather a collection of symptoms caused by any number of conditions that affect the brain. People living with dementia can experience changes in their thinking, behaviour and the ability to perform everyday tasks.

Some common symptoms of dementia include:

  • Loss of memory – this could include trouble remembering names and recent events.
  • Difficulty undertaking tasks that require organisation and planning.
  • Experiencing confusion in unfamiliar or familiar environments
  • Difficulty in expressing oneself, finding the right words
  • Confusion when shopping and handling money
  • Changes in personality and mood
  • Depression

As early symptoms can be mild, the person affected and the people around them may not recognise a change in their behaviour for some time. Overtime the symptoms of dementia tend to become more severe. It is important to talk to your GP as soon as possible if you notice any changes in yourself or those around you. It is possible to have more than one condition that causes dementia. An early diagnosis means treatment can begin that may alleviate symptoms or slow the progress of dementia.

Below are 4 conditions that result in symptoms of dementia:

  • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Vascular Dementia
  • Lewy Bodies
  • Frontotemporal dementia


Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. It affects up to 70% of people living with dementia. Short-term memory loss is one of the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. But as the disease progresses to deeper parts of the brain, long-term memory is also lost. The disease also affects many of the brain’s other functions and consequently, many other aspects of behaviour are disturbed.


Vascular Dementia

Vascular dementia refers to dementia caused by problems with the circulation of blood to the brain. The symptoms of vascular dementia can sometimes develop suddenly or gradually over many months or years. People with vascular dementia may experience stroke like symptoms, including muscle weakness or paralysis on one side of their body. Vascular dementia is usually diagnosed through neurological examination and brain scanning.


Lewy Bodies Disease

Dementia with Lewy bodies has many of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Lewy Bodies disease is characterised by the presence of ‘Lewy Bodies’ ; spherical shaped structures which develop inside the nerve cells. People with the condition typically also experience:

  • fluctuating levels of confusion
  • visual hallucinations
  • becoming slower in their physical movements


Frontotemporal dementia

Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD) is the name given to dementia which results in progressive damage to the frontal and/or temporal lobes of the brain. Early symptoms typically include changes in emotion, personality and behaviour. For example, someone with this type of dementia may become less sensitive to other people’s emotions, perhaps making them seem cold and uncaring. They may also lose some of their inhibitions, leading to behaviour that is out of character, such as making tactless or inappropriate comments.


Further information on all forms of dementia can be found at Alzheimer’s Australia.

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