What is dementia?
Most people assume that dementia is just another word for Alzheimer’s disease, when in fact, it is a term used to describe a variety of different brain disorders that can include Alzheimer’s disease.
Dementia in Canada may be more common than you think. Here are some alarming dementia statistics that affect nearly all Canadians:
- In 2011, 747,000 Canadians were living with dementia. By 2031, this figure is expected to increase to 1.4 million.
- The combined direct (medical) and indirect (lost earnings) cost of dementia totals $33 billion per year.
- Family caregivers spent over 444 million unpaid hours looking after someone with dementia in 2011.
What are the 7 A’s of dementia?
The Seven A’s are an easy way for caregivers to remember which areas of the brain can be affected by dementia. Each of these A’s represents damage to a particular part of the brain:
- Anosognosia – the individual no longer realizes there is something wrong.
- Amnesia – the individual suffers memory loss beginning with short-term and eventually long-term memories.
- Aphasia – the individual experiences loss of language skills, including the ability to speak, understand, read or write.
- Agnosia – the individual is unable to recognize things through the senses: sight, sound, taste, touch and smell.
- Apraxia – the individual has difficulty with movement and activities involving coordination, like tying shoelaces, doing up zippers, and driving.
- Altered perceptions – the individual suffers loss of depth perception, for example.
- Apathy – the individual is unable to, or lacks interest in beginning activities, or staying involved in a conversation or task.
As a caregiver, keep in mind that a person with dementia may not experience all of the A’s. Dementia can affect several different areas of the brain, but not always at the same time.
More early warning signs of dementia
It’s important for caregivers to know that dementia is not a normal part of aging.
Do you know the early signs of dementia and symptoms to watch for in the person you care for?
- Memory loss that affects day-to-day function
- Problems with language (e.g. forgetting simple words)
- Disorientation of time and place (e.g. becoming lost on their own street)
- Poor or decreased judgment
- Problems with abstract thinking, like recognizing what numbers mean
- Misplacing items around the house in unlikely places, such as the iron in the freezer
- Changes in mood or behaviour (e.g. mood swings)
- Changes in personality, like becoming confused or suspicious
- Loss of initiative (e.g. requiring cues or prompts)
Common factors & causes of dementia
Many people ask, “What causes dementia?”
This answer is complicated, but some factors that can increase a person’s risk of dementia are:
- African-American/Canadian descent
- Female gender
- Family history (early onset, age 50-60, genetic-based)
- Low level of education
- Elevated cholesterol in mid-life
With all of the online resources available, including resources on Elizz like our article on Alzheimer’s and Dementia home care tips, the temptation to self-diagnose the person you’re taking care of may be hard to resist.
Remember, these dementia signs and resources are just tools to point you in the right direction. A proper dementia diagnosis should always be left to a licensed health care professional.