What is dementia?

Dementia is a term used to describe a group of cognitive symptoms that affect memory, thinking, and the ability to perform daily tasks. It is not a single disease but rather a range of conditions that occur due to different neurocognitive conditions. 

There are many different types of dementia; these are:

  • Alzheimer’s disease: the most common type of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease causes the brain to shrink and brain cells to die, thus resulting in a gradual decline in memory, thinking abilities, reasoning, and communication.
  • Vascular dementia: usually occurs due to a lack of blood supply to certain parts of the brain. The reduced blood supply can cause brain tissue to shrink and die, causing a decline in memory and thinking abilities.
  • Dementia from Lewy bodies: occurs due to abnormal deposits of the protein alpha-synuclein in the brain. The proteins affect the brain chemistry, which results in mood and behavioural changes.
  • Dementia from Parkinson’s disease: also known as Parkinson’s Disease Dementia (PDD), can occur as Parkinson’s disease progresses.
  • Frontotemporal dementia: the least common type of dementia, frontotemporal dementia, also known as Pick’s disease, results in behavioural changes and language difficulties.
  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease: a fatal degenerative disease thought to be caused by the prion protein.
dementia brain
Individuals with dementia experience an atrophy or shrinking of their brain tissue, resulting in memory loss, mood changes, and reduced cognitive function.

Over time, you or your loved one may struggle to recognise familiar faces and places, or even remember recent events. Dementia can also impact your emotional state, causing mood swings and behavioural changes. 

Dementia significantly affects your quality of life and requires ongoing care and support. Early diagnosis and proper management, including medication and therapeutic interventions, can help slow its progression and improve the overall well-being of those affected.

What causes dementia?

The exact cause of dementia is not always clear; however, it is often linked to brain cell damage and abnormal protein deposits. Causes of dementia generally involve a combination of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors. In some cases, specific diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, or Lewy body dementia are responsible for the condition.

You may inherit certain genetic mutations that increase your risk of developing certain types of dementia. Additionally, factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, diabetes and a sedentary lifestyle can contribute to vascular issues that affect brain health. Brain injuries or infections may also play a role.

The underlying mechanisms involve the accumulation of abnormal proteins in the brain, which interfere with cell communication and lead to cell death. While you cannot control your genetic predisposition, a healthy lifestyle can lower your risk.

dementia patient
Individuals with dementia experience memory loss, confusion, behavioural and mood changes, and loss of initiative.

What are the symptoms of dementia?

Symptoms of dementia include:

  • Memory loss
  • Confusion
  • Communication challenges
  • Trouble with planning and organising
  • Impaired judgement
  • Mood changes
  • Personality changes
  • Difficulty with complex tasks
  • Withdrawal
  • Loss of initiative

Is dementia painful?

Dementia itself is not typically a physically painful condition. However, the emotional and psychological aspects of dementia, such as confusion, frustration, and the awareness of memory loss, can lead to distress and discomfort. While physical pain is not a direct symptom of dementia, managing the emotional challenges that arise from the condition is crucial. If you or a loved one is experiencing these emotional difficulties, seeking support and care from healthcare professionals and support networks can significantly improve overall well-being.

Who is at risk of dementia in Singapore?

A history of depression or other mental health issues may increase an individual’s risk of dementia.

In Singapore, several factors contribute to the risk of dementia. 

  • Advanced age: although dementia is not a normal part of ageing, its risk increases with age.
  • Family history: if you have a family history of dementia, you may be at a higher risk due to a potential genetic predisposition.
  • Lifestyle factors: if you lead a sedentary lifestyle, have poor cardiovascular health, or have conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure, your risk could be elevated. 
  • Lack of mental stimulation: a lack of mental stimulation, such as not engaging in cognitively stimulating activities, may also be a contributing risk factor.
  • Gender: women have a slightly higher risk than men, partly due to their longer life expectancy.
  • Poor mental health: if you have a history of depression or other mental health issues, this may impact your risk.

While certain risk factors are beyond your control, adopting a healthy lifestyle, staying mentally and socially active, managing chronic health conditions and seeking regular medical check-ups can help reduce your risk of dementia in Singapore.

How is dementia diagnosed?

Diagnosing dementia involves a comprehensive assessment by your neurosurgeon; these assessments include:

  • Medical evaluation: your neurosurgen will consider your medical history, symptoms, and conduct cognitive and physical evaluations. During these evaluations, you may be asked questions and perform tasks that assess memory, problem-solving, language skills, and overall cognitive function.
  • Blood tests: blood tests may be conducted to rule out other potential causes of your symptoms.
  • Imaging tests: imaging tests such as computed tomography scans (CT scans) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) will be conducted to check for brain atrophy and to rule out other potential causes.
  • Neuropsychological assessment: may be done to get a more detailed understanding of your cognitive abilities.

Collaboration between doctors, neurologists, and neuropsychologists is common for an accurate diagnosis. While there is no definitive test for dementia, the combination of clinical evaluations, medical history, and test results will help determine the type of dementia and its underlying causes.

Alzheimer’s disease MRI
MRI of the brain can show loss of brain tissue, characteristic of dementia.

What are the treatment options for dementia in Singapore?

In Singapore, the treatment for dementia focuses on managing symptoms and improving quality of life. While there is no cure, several approaches can help; these are:

  • Medications: some medications can temporarily alleviate cognitive symptoms or manage behavioural issues associated with dementia.
  • Cognitive stimulation: engaging in activities that challenge your brain, such as puzzles or art, can help maintain cognitive function.
  • Lifestyle changes: adopting a healthy lifestyle through regular exercise, a balanced diet, and social engagement can slow down the progression of dementia.
  • Supportive therapies: occupational therapy, speech therapy, and music therapy can assist in managing specific symptoms and enhancing communication.
  • Caregiver support: families play a crucial role in dementia care. Support groups and caregiver education programs are available in Singapore to help families cope.
  • Palliative care: in advanced stages, palliative care focuses on managing symptoms and providing comfort.

Frequently asked questions  

Is dementia a normal part of ageing?

No, dementia is not a normal part of ageing. While some mild memory changes are typical as you age, significant cognitive decline and behavioural changes that interfere with daily life are not a regular aspect of getting older. If you or someone you know is experiencing such changes, seeking medical evaluation is advisable.

Can dementia be prevented?

While there is no guaranteed way to prevent dementia, certain lifestyle choices may lower the risk. Staying mentally active through puzzles, reading and learning, maintaining a balanced diet, engaging in regular physical activity, managing cardiovascular health and staying socially connected can contribute to overall brain health as you age.

What is the progression of dementia?

The progression of dementia varies, but it generally involves a gradual decline in cognitive abilities and daily functioning. Early stages may involve mild memory lapses, while advanced stages can lead to significant memory loss, difficulty with communication and the need for constant care. Seeking early diagnosis and support is important.

For Virtual Consultation

+65 9761 1163
Consultation Hours
Monday to Friday 11am to 6pm | Saturday 11am to 2pm | SUNDAY COSED
Copyright © 2023 Chou Neuroscience Clinic. All Rights Reserved
Copyright © 2023 Chou Neuroscience Clinic. All Rights Reserved