Everything you need to know about dementia

With Dementia Australia’s annual Memory Walk and Jog coming up, Dr Bill Walker provides an overview of what dementia is. Melbourne’s Memory Walk and Jog will be held on May 5. The event aims to encourage Aussies to ‘get active and beat dementia’.

1) What is dementia?

Dementia is a degeneration of the brain cell tissue. It’s thought to be caused by a protein called Amyloid. This protein is deposited in the brain tissue, damaging the neurons and causing them to not work so efficiently.

The protein is produced by the body itself, but we don’t know why that happens in some people. There’s a lot of researching going on into how we can stop that Amyloid deposition to stop the progression of the disease.

2) Who is susceptible?

The stats are 20% of people over the age of 85 will have dementia. Basically, if you live long enough, there’s a high chance you’ll become demented.

The commonest cause is Alzheimer’s dementia – it accounts for about 60% of dementia cases. No one knows what causes Alzheimer’s.

Vascular dementia causes 17%, and that’s where the small blood vessels in the brain block off, due to things like untreated high blood pressure and high cholesterol over time. As a result, you lose brain cells.

Then there are 23% which are rarer causes of dementia.

The cause is usually sporadic. It’s an interaction by the environment and genetic makeup. Basically, something is going on in our lives and our genes, but that’s about as far as we can say.

With Alzheimer’s, only about 1 in 1000 cases is inherited. Genetics only plays a small part. If your mum or dad has Alzheimer’s, then there’s a good chance you won’t get it, but there is a small proportion who do have an inherited predisposition.

3) What are the treatments?

The treatments aren’t brilliant. There’s no treatment to reverse the underlying degeneration of the brain cells. The treatments that are available may temporarily improve or delay the inevitable decline.

4) What are your top tips for warding off dementia?

Increasing cognitive activity may help develop and maintain a cognitive reserve, which may delay the onset of dementia. A lot of people do crosswords, sudokus and those types of brain puzzles to keep their brains ticking over. Then again, there’s these wonderfully intelligent, bright people who get dementia, so it’s hard to know.

Keeping active as you get older may also maintain your reserve of good brain cells. There’s not a lot of research to prove that, but that’s what people advise as you get older.

When it comes to vascular dementia, which we do see a lot of in General Practice, if you keep your blood pressure well controlled and your cholesterol low, it will reduce your chances of developing vascular dementia.

5) What symptoms should you look out for?

Although short-term memory loss is a concern to a lot of people and it can be the start of dementia, it’s often just part of getting older. People with dementia have difficulty learning new things. They become easily disorientated and bewildered.

Help is available

At Bluff Road Medical Centre and Bayside Family Medical, we offer a preventative health program to reduce patients’ risk factors for developing vascular dementia. Our doctors can offer advice about controlling high blood pressure and lowering cholesterol, and how to make any necessary lifestyle changes.

In addition, we provide counselling services for those experiencing mental health issues such as depression or anxiety associated with a dementia diagnosis. These can be accessed by both sufferers and support people. We can also refer sufferers to specialists such as neurologists if required.

To make an appointment at Bluff Road Medical Centre, call (03) 9598 6244, click here to book online or download the HotDoc app. To book in at Bayside Family Medical, please call (03) 9583 1630.

You can also find out more about the Dementia Australia Memory Walk and Jog at: www.memorywalk.com.au/events