Dementia

What do you do if you suspect you or someone you love might have dementia?

June 3, 2019

From popular media right through to conversations with friends and relatives there is a lot of discussion about dementia.

What is dementia?

Roughly speaking, dementia means an abnormal decline in how well your brain works. We don’t yet know what causes it. It gets slowly worse over time and does change the actual structure of the brain.

How does it differ from normal aging?

It seems like the older I get the more I hear about it. That is fair enough as the incidence of dementia does increase.

It is an unfortunate fact of getting older, that our brains do get a bit slower at doing things and quite a bit less efficient at doing things. This is quite normal. It doesn’t mean we stop being interested in things nor does it stop us being able to learn new things: it usually just takes more repetitions and practice – or we get teenagers to do stuff for us like set up a Facebook page for us.

This normal slowing is less obvious around skills we’ve practiced a lot. If you have always played music your speed at learning new music will not change much. Your bridge skills will normally only change very slightly.

What to look out for?

When dementia affects us we and those who love us will notice at first some unusual changes. Common ones include repeated forgetfulness, unexpected difficulties with spatial skills like parking a car, or repeated difficulties finding the right words even if we are familiar with the topic.

The decline into increasing brain failure is somewhat different for each person. Some notice unexplained depression, others notice their sense of smell is reduced.

All of us have occasional brain fades or seniors moments.

What to do if we notice any slowing or increased forgetfulness or clumsiness? How do we tell if it might be dementia?

Thankfully there are very accurate ways of measuring how well the brain is performing.

It is very important to raise any concerns you might have about dementia with your general medical practitioner.

They can start assessment for dementia. This covers two main areas:

  • General health – our brain is totally dependent upon a healthy body to function so your doctor will often order some blood tests first to check all the organs are functioning well.
  • Testing your thinking skills. There are some simple mental tests that your doctor can do that are reasonable sensitive to abnormal deterioration in brain functioning. Your general practitioner can do these with you quite quickly in a session.

Then what? How a Neuropsychologist can help

If there are still lingering doubts then your general practitioner can recommend you consult a neuropsychologist for more detailed testing.

This can be really important if you have a high level of education or you had well developed skills that might mean that a simple test of thinking skills is simply too easy- even with a damaged brain.

A neuropsychologist can also take into consideration things like English not being your most familiar language or longer standing issues like poor vision or deafness.

What benefit is there in being diagnosed?

Well honestly there are no cures for dementia so it is understandable that some people prefer not to find out.

The critical thing is a diagnosis of dementia does not mean that suddenly you stop being yourself and your life comes to an end. This is where a neuropsychologists familiarity with dementia by suggesting tailored strategies that can help work around lost thinking skills can often assist.

However, knowing can give reassurance in clearly understanding what is going on. It can help decide whether you should consider your advance care directives and your financial and legal plans are up to date. It is a good idea to get these done while still mildly affected so that your wishes can be met.

Other people use the information to bring other plans forward like overseas holidays.

If everyday coping has become seriously affected, getting a clear diagnosis can help open up in home help through my aged care. This can hugely improve the quality of life and enjoyment.

If there are concerns about being taken advantage of, or cheated due to poor memory skills then a neuropsychologist can help you clarify if you could appoint a substitute decision maker to support you. There are many options available now to keep as independent and autonomous as possible.

Neuropsychological assessments are often useful if you are thinking of applying to the South Australian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (SACAT) for an order or alternatively wish to contest an order being taken against you.

*Note that Attuned psychologists do not attend board hearings at SACAT but we can provide assessments and reports for you as part of your preparations.

If you feel you would like to talk to Clinical Neuropsychologist Catherine Cheetham, contact us here to discuss a booking with our reception staff.

Catherine Cheetham

Clinical Neuropsychologist


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