No, dementia is not a normal part of ageing

September is World Alzheimer’s Month; it’s the perfect opportunity to spread awareness and support the 70,000 people living in New Zealand with dementia. One of the most common questions about dementia is: is it a normal part ageing? And the answer is no!

Dementia is caused by a variety of diseases and injuries that affect the brain, such as Alzheimer’s disease or stroke. It affects memory and other cognitive functions, as well as the ability to perform everyday tasks. It is estimated that 55 million people across the globe are living with dementia – a number that is estimated to grow significantly in the coming decades.

Dementia is more pronounced than simple memory loss and includes symptoms like:

  • feeling like your brain is fading.
  • confusion with written and spoken words.
  • putting things where they don’t belong.
  • difficulty solving problems that you could in the past.
  • finding conversations or storylines hard to follow.
  • mood swings, confusion, lack of motivation, depression.
  • feeling fearful about going out.

“Dementia robs millions of people of their memories, independence and dignity, but it also robs the rest of us of the people we know and love,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), following the release of its ‘Global status report on the public health response to dementia’ report.

Yet, what must be understand is this: dementia is not a normal part of ageing.

As we get older, we may start feeling like we’re not as mentally sharp as we were 10 – or even 5 – years ago. While this can be frustrating, it’s unfortunately a normal part of ageing. In fact, we all experience changes to brain functionality as early as our 20s and 30s. Basically, our brain begins to shrink and the networks that send information throughout the body become less efficient; this can result in things like memory loss, an impaired ability understand a new concept or finding it difficult making decisions.

It’s important to understand that experiencing these types of changes does not mean you are developing dementia; these are normal changes we all develop to a greater or lesser degree.

What isn’t a normal part of ageing, however, is dementia. According to Alzheimers New Zealand, almost 70,000 live with dementia in New Zealand; that is less than 10 percent of the total number of the 759,800 Kiwis aged over 65 (based on 2019 data from Stats NZ).

According to Dr Matthew Croucher (Psychiatrist of Old Age and Senior Clinical lecturer at University of Otago), there are some great strategies we should all be doing to improve our brain health:

  • exercise at least 2- 3 times a week – this could be a brisk walk, participating in a social sport or even physically active chores like mowing the lawn.
  • eat a balanced diet full of fresh fruit, vegetables, fish, nuts and healthy fats like olive oil and avocado.
  • stop smoking and minimise alcohol intake.
  • engage regularly in mentally active activities, such as a craft, reading, or attending a theatre show.
  • staying socially connected – whether with loved ones or community groups – is a great way to maintain health and wellbeing at any age.

World Alzheimers Month

Alzheimers New Zealand is asking people to get active this month and Move for Dementia. Be inspired by all its great online resources (encourage your family and friends to join too), then create your fundraising page and you’re away!

Another way of raising awareness for dementia is by donning your best purple threads on World Alzheimers Day, Tuesday 21st September. On the day, you can share a photo of your purple outfits to social media – don’t forget to tag with #WearPurple and #WorldAlzMonth.

Photo credit: Hermes Rivera on Unsplash

About Mason Head

Content Creator and Publication Lead at Eldernet