What is dementia?

Dementia isn’t one thing: it’s made up of a range of health conditions.

Typically, a person with dementia will exhibit a variety of symptoms that affect their ability to think clearly and interact socially.

It can affect our well-being in a number of ways, from the way we communicate to how we move and behave.

Signs of dementia

A combination of several of these symptoms may lead to a diagnosis of dementia:

  • Confusion, disorientation and loss of balance
  • progressive loss of memory
  • struggle with vocabulary, including the inability to remember words
  • loss of comprehension, such as the ability to tell the time or understand instructions
  • changes in personality
  • deterioration in personal cleanliness and hygiene
  • social isolation and withdrawal
  • the inability to perform everyday tasks.

It’s important to remember that it’s not one single thing. If you or someone you know is experiencing one or two symptoms, it may not be a sign of dementia; there are many other reasons for specific symptoms, such as depression, trouble with medication, vitamin deficiency and more.

Dementia can only be diagnosed by a medical professional.

Causes of dementia

Because dementia is an umbrella term describing a group of symptoms, there is no single cause. A range of causes can lead to dementia – including hereditary and behavioural causes – depending on the type of dementia a person has.

Who gets dementia?

While dementia typically occurs in older adults, it can affect a broad range of people. Around 30 per cent of people over 85 have dementia in Australia, and 10 per cent of people over 60 years old. Although most people with dementia are older, it is not a normal part of ageing; dementia is a disease.

It is estimated that around 6 per cent of people with dementia are considered to have ‘younger onset dementia’.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that dementia is the leading cause of death for women, and the second most common cause overall.

Read next: Types of Dementia