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Is Dementia A Normal Part Of Ageing?

Despite popular belief, the answer is simple: No, it isn't,

A new global survey, commissioned by Alzheimer's Disease International, has found two-thirds of people believe that dementia is simply all part of growing older.

In line with that belief, a staggering 95 percent of respondents believe that they think they will develop dementia in their lifetime.

"While age is a risk factor, dementia is not a normal part of ageing," Dementia Australia CEO Maree McCabe said.

“These findings confirm there is much more to be done to raise awareness about dementia -- which is the leading cause of death of women in Australia, and the second leading cause of death overall of all Australians".

Dementia is not part of growing old. Photo: Getty Images

Close to 70,000 people across 155 countries responded to the world's largest study on the disease with the surprising results published in The World Alzheimer Report 2019: Attitudes to dementia ahead of World Alzheimer’s Day on Saturday. 

Not only did the survey highlight the startling lack of knowledge surrounding dementia, but it also forecasts an astounding number of people expected to be diagnosed in the coming years.

Currently, in Australia, there are close to half-a-million people living with dementia. Globally, that figure is estimated to sit at roughly 50 million.

By 2058, the number of people living with the disease is expected to triple to 152 million.

Photo: Getty Images

So what is dementia?

Dementia isn't a single disease but describes a collection of symptoms that are caused by disorders affecting the brain.

It affects how a person thinks, the way they behave and the ability to perform everyday tasks.

Alzheimer's disease is the most common type, but there are a number of different forms and while dementia usually affects people aged over 65, it is not a normal part of the ageing process and can happen to anybody.

Early signs include memory loss, confusion, personality change, withdrawal and an increasing ability to perform everyday tasks. Often the signs are subtle.

The biggest and most concerning issue is that there is no prevention and there is no cure.

You can read all about the disease here.

Progressive and frequent memory loss can be an early sign of dementia. Photo: Getty images

Stigma and discrimination are critical issues

The global survey found that more than 85 percent of respondents living with dementia feel they had not been taken seriously.

It's a sentiment echoed here in Australia, according to McCabe.

“We know, because people living with dementia tell us, that discrimination exists and that it impacts on their everyday life,” she said.

“Too many people do not know where to turn, and there is a perception in communities that nothing can be done following a diagnosis of dementia.”

She explained that the barriers are also inhibiting major research breakthroughs.

“We know that discrimination can have a significant impact at an individual level, as well as being a potential barrier between major breakthroughs in research and funding that could improve the lives of people living with dementia,” McCabe said.

“Data specific to Australia showed that 55 per cent of the general public in Australia thought that people living with dementia are impulsive and unpredictable.

“We must tackle discrimination and provide support for people and communities across Australia."

She has called on everyone from family member and friends through to governments and researchers to change the way they think and behave in order to bring on a societal shift.