WHAT IS AND WHAT ISN’T DEMENTIA?
If you have noticed that you or a person you know is getting more forgetful, or has been feeling confused, anxious or low for a while, it is a good idea to visit your GP.
Dementia NZ has fact sheets available on the different types of dementia.
Mild Cognitive Impairment
Mild Cognitive Impairment describes a condition where there are changes to memory or thinking greater than you would expect at person’s age, but day to day functioning is not affected.
Dementia occurs because of physical changes in the structure of the brain.
- Poor short-term memory
- Inability to carry out common tasks, such as preparing a meal
- Personality changes
- Struggling to follow conversations
- Becoming depressed or withdrawn
- Difficulty with abstract thinking
- Poor judgement
- Disorientation with time and place
Dementia is progressive, which means the symptoms will get worse, but how quickly and in what ways the dementia progresses will depend on each individual.
The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, and other causes include vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies, and fronto-temporal dementia.
Talking to your GP is crucial to finding out what (if anything) is wrong, and what treatment and assistance is available.
If you’re concerned about changes to memory or thinking, here are some ways to prepare for the GP visit.
- Book a longer time than usual with your GP, and choose a time of day when you are at your best
- Arrange for a support person to accompany you to the appointment
- Collect the Cognitive Impairment and Dementia Pathway family questionnaire from the medical practice or download it here
- Complete and send the questionnaire to the medical practice ahead of the appointment along with any other concerns you have
- Keep a folder/notebook about conversations you have with your GP, and questions you would like to ask. Ask your doctor to write things down if necessary
What to expect
Your GP will be guided by a tool called the “The Cognitive Impairment and Dementia Pathway” to accurately assess symptoms.
This could include:
- Taking a history – you and your family may be asked to complete a questionnaire
- Undergoing a physical examination
- Taking laboratory tests – possibly blood or urine may be required
- Cognitive tests – used to assess language, memory, attention and problem solving
- Brain imaging – this is unusual but may be ordered if the tests are unclear
Supporting a person to visit the GP
Some people may be resistant to the idea of visiting a doctor. Sometimes people may appear to be in denial or do not realise there is something wrong with them. This can be due to brain changes which can interfere with the ability to recognise or appreciate changes are occurring. Others, who do have insight into their condition, may be afraid of having their fears confirmed.
If the person you are concerned about is reluctant to attend an appointment, it may be helpful to link the assessment to another reason for visiting the doctor. For example; an annual check up, a blood pressure check or review of medication.
If this is not successful seek advice from the GP or contact Dementia Wellington (or you local dementia organisation).
KEEPING YOUR BRAIN HEALTHY
According to Alzheimers Disease International, there are five key lifestyle changes people can make to reduce the risk of developing dementia. These are look after your heart, be physically healthy, follow a healthy diet, challenge your brain, and enjoy social interaction.
If you’re concerned about brain changes to your thinking or memory, be sure to get checked by your GP every six months.
If you’d like to find out more about keeping your brain active and healthy, here are some great websites and courses:
DEMENTIA IN NEW ZEALAND
There are currently over 60,000 people in New Zealand diagnosed with dementia, and this number is predicted to rise to over 170,000 by 2050. For more information about the numbers, costs and implications of dementia in New Zealand, Alzheimers New Zealand has excellent resources available here