The term "dementia" is used by the medical community to describe people with impaired intellectual capacity. Dementia is not a normal part of the aging process. Dementing conditions are caused by abnormal disease processes, and can affect younger as well as older persons.
Short- and long-term memory impairment is the most prominent symptom of dementia. It ranges from inability to learn new information, to think problems through or to complete complex tasks, to inability to remember past personal history. There may also be impairment in abstract thinking or in judgement. Dementia may disturb higher cortical function affecting language and motor activities. Personality change happens often involving either an alteration or an accentuation of paranoid, inappropriate or bizarre behaviour.
Most people don't think of dementia as a deadly condition, but as time goes on patients have difficulty swallowing, they may have difficulties walking and they become more susceptible to malnutrition and to infections.
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia. It accounts for around 60 to 80 per cent of dementia cases. Vascular dementia is the second most common form and is caused by high blood pressure. Behind these two forms comes alcohol-related dementia, Parkinson’s dementia and frontotemporal dementia. There are other medical conditions that resemble dementia and can cause serious memory problems.
In Australia in 2016, less than 2% of adults 65-69 years of age have a dementia diagnosis, and this rises to over 30% for those 90 years and over. The flip side of this is that nearly 70% of those aged 90 years and over don’t have dementia.
According to the Alzheimer's Association, approximately 4 million people are afflicted with Alzheimer's disease in the USA. By the year 2040, the number of persons with Alzheimer's disease may exceed 6 million.
Recent studies (reported in 2016) from Europe and the US demonstrated an individual’s risk of dementia has actually decreased over the past two decades because it appears that older adults are now more physically and cognitively healthy than their predecessors.