Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia

  • More than 170,000 New Zealanders will be living with dementia by 2050.
  • Dementia is now the third largest cause of death in New Zealand. 
  • Dementia is a progressive condition which means the symptoms will gradually get worse. 

Dementia is a collective term that describes a series of symptoms associated with gradual mental decline. It is not one specific disease, rather a symptom of several underlying diseases and it is not a normal part of ageing. 

The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, accounting for 60 to 80 percent of cases of dementia in New Zealand. The second most common cause is vascular dementia.

Signs and Symptoms:

Alzheimer’s is a degenerative disease, meaning symptoms start gradually and get worse over time. These symptoms include:

  • Loss of memory
  • Difficulty performing normal tasks
  • Changes in personality
  • Geographic disorientation
  • Trouble forming sentences in conversation
  • Loss of interest in normal activities

Causes and Treatment:

Alzheimer’s disease occurs when brain cells progressively degenerate and eventually die. The cause of Alzheimer’s disease is currently unknown, although scientists believe there is a causal connection between lifestyle and environmental factors that affect the brain over time.

Researchers have found several genes that increase the risk of Alzheimer’s, although less than 5 per cent of Alzheimer’s cases are believed to be linked to a specific genetic change.

There are drugs on the market that have been modestly successful at treating some of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s such as memory loss and attention skills. There is no known cure for Alzheimer’s, but as science progresses there is hope that medicines and other therapies can be developed to delay, prevent or maybe even reverse the disease. Clinical trials are currently underway into drugs and a vaccine that seek to solve some of the underlying problems that researchers believe cause Alzheimer’s. 

With your help, the Neurological Foundation can continue to fund key research that broadens our understanding of Alzheimer’s and will hopefully one day lead to a cure. 

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