Alzheimer’s frequently asked questions?

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Is it not normal to lose memory as one grows older?

You cannot expect your brain to continue functioning at the same level as it has always done since your twenties.  As with the rest of your body – e.g. joints, eyes, ears etc. – some gradual decline is inevitable.  But in a sense the brain is usually relatively spared in this regard.  This means that a normal ageing brain should still be able to function quite well.  We should be able to remember our grandchildren, we should be able to remember conversations and books or newspapers that we have read (providing or eyes still cooperate!).  Any decline that impairs our functioning is not normal.

Is it a complicated process to have my memory tested?

No.  There are simple tests that doctors, psychologists, nurses or occupational therapists could do to determine whether there is a problem or not.

But is it worthwhile being tested? Is there really anything that can be done?

Without a doubt!  The earlier the better, since there are many interventions that could potentially make a difference.  We do not yet have the cure for Alzheimer’s dementia, but there are a number of things that could influence the progression of this and other, sometimes treatable, forms of dementia.  Here we are referring to lifestyle as well as medical interventions.

What are the common causes of dementia?

Alzheimer’s is still the most common type worldwide, especially in the elderly population.  But in South Africa, HIV is also an important cause, as well as conditions such as hypertension.

So what is the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia?

Dementia refers to a group of conditions that all affect memory and other brain functions.  There are many forms of dementia – some of them as mentioned above.  Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia with specific characteristics, such as onset in the elderly, gradual decline and a number of unique changes within the structure and chemistry of the brain.