Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of conditions where the brain experiences ongoing tissue loss, which gives rise to ongoing loss of cognition. Dementia can also be fatal – in 2013, dementia became Australia’s second most common cause of death. Although risk of dementia increases with age, dementia is not a normal part of ageing and reflects the presence of a chronic disease.
The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, where plaques between cells in the brain and structural damage within cells leads to reduced brain mass and cognition. However, there are more than 100 other causes of dementia.
Although it is often the most commonly associated impairment in dementia, memory is only one feature of cognitive impairment. Other common features may include language impairment, difficulty understanding information, poor spatial skills, and reduced attention.
For more information on dementia, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare provides an effective background to dementia, while the Your Brain Matters website provides additional information including more detailed descriptions of different types of dementia. Finally, information on Alzheimer’s Australia’s National Dementia Helpline is available online – this hotline offers information about dementia and its risk factors, and support for people affected by dementia directly or indirectly.