Facts about Alzheimer's and other dementias
• Dementia is a physical disease of the brain.
• As the disease progresses, the brain becomes more and more damaged.
• Performance and judgement will deteriorate until the person is unable to lead a normal life.
• Dementia can affect anyone - a former president of the United States or even you.
• Dementia is not contagious.
• No one single factor has been identified as the cause of Alzheimer's.
Dementia progresses at different rates. How the disease starts and progresses will vary from person to person. Signs
and symptoms become more persistent and serious over time.
A combination of symptoms can be experienced at the same time.
In South Africa the most common forms of dementia include the following, and it is possible to have more than one form of dementia at a time:
• Vascular/multi-infarct dementia
• Alcohol-related dementia
• Post-traumatic dementia
Signs and symptoms in the mild and moderate phases
• Increasing and persistent forgetfulness
• Difficulty with abstract thinking
• Disorientation: people with dementia may become agitated in strange surroundings and keep asking the same questions
• Loss of judgement: losing control and saying or doing things they would not previously have said or done
• Personality changes
• Memory loss: people developing dementia may forget simple things very easily
• Increasing dependence on others
• Urinary and faecal incontinence
• Difficulty communicating
No single laboratory test can confirm a diagnosis of dementia. A doctor will usually make the diagnosis of dementia only after excluding other causes such as an infection, vitamin deficiency, thyroid disease, the side effects of drugs and many other possible causes.
As there is no cure for dementia, the first goal of management remains holistic physical and emotional care. There are drugs available, designed to treat symptoms of dementia in the early and middle stages. They are not a cure, but may stabilise and even improve some symptoms for a while.
The key to coping with dementia is to focus on what the person can do rather than what he or she is not able to do. Caregivers will need to be patient and understanding. A constantly creative attitude is essential.
10 warning signs
If you have, or someone you know has, three or more of these signs and it is cause for concern for the person or those close to that person, a visit to a medical practitioner is recommended:
• A memory problem that is not caused by alcohol abuse or head injury, and that worsens with time.
• Language problems. Difficulty naming objects, finding the right word to use in a sentence, and often talking nonsense.
• Zips and buttons are difficult to fasten. People with Alzheimer's find it hard to dress themselves.
• Hygiene. Those with Alzheimer's may not care about how they look and may not want to bath.
• Extreme mood swings. A change in mood for no reason, such as being calm then suddenly scared or angry and aggressive, within minutes.
• Impaired judgement. Strange behaviour, like wearing underwear over top clothes, or taking off clothes in public.
• Many people with Alzheimer's get lost in familiar places such as their own neighbourhood.
• Even recognition of their own family and friends becomes difficult.
• Recalls memories of childhood at times, but unable to remember something that happened today.
• Suspicious of other people, sometimes accusing them of stealing or hiding things.
If you would like to talk about dementia to someone at Alzheimer's SA, phone or email us:
National Helpline - Tel: 0860 102 681
Eastern Cape - Tel: 041 371 4262
Free State - Tel: 051 522 4894
Gauteng - Tel: 011 346 2757
KwaZulu-Natal - Tel: 031 702 4321
Limpopo - Tel: 082 949 6456
Mpumalanga - Tel: 013 007 0089
North West - Tel: 018 293 0678 x 21
Northern Cape - Tel: 053 831 5815
Southern Cape - Tel: 044 533 0132
Western Cape - Tel: 021 979 2724