Dementia is a decline in cognitive abilities that affects one in ten Australians over the age of 65 and three in ten Australians over the age of 85. It can occur earlier in life, too. According to statistics, about 25,000 younger Australians suffer from early-onset dementia.
Alzheimer’s disease is a specific type of dementia. It is the most common type of dementia, affecting up to 70 percent of dementia sufferers. It was first discovered by Dr. Alois Alzheimer after he studied the brain of one of his deceased patients. The cause of the disease is brain cell death, which results in a literal shrinking of the brain. The symptoms of the disease include short-term memory loss followed by long-term memory loss. Other symptoms include:
- Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
- Deterioration of social skills
- Emotional instability
- Reduced ability to do routine tasks
- Up to 25 percent of sufferers have hallucinations
The symptoms can vary from day to day or even throughout the day. Symptoms are often worse in times of stress, fatigue or poor health.
Can Psychology Help Combat Alzheimer’s Disease?
The first step in treatment is identifying Alzheimer’s disease. This is usually done through a process of elimination of other possible causes. While there are now medications that can help relieve the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, there are no cures. However, psychological intervention can also help combat the disease.
A psychologist can help in a number of ways. Specifically, memory-enhancement techniques can help sufferers retain or improve their memory skills. Psychologists use a number of techniques to help sufferers remember names and important information. The techniques used are technical, but psychologists can benefit both patients with Alzheimer’s disease and caregivers by:
- Maximising brain function and preserving cognitive abilities;
- Enhancing the quality of life of Alzheimer’s sufferers; and
- Reducing the burden on caregivers.
A psychologist will start by identifying the disease and will then recommend appropriate treatments, which may include medication and cognitive therapy. If you are a caregiver, they can help you help the sufferer and help you cope with caring for a patient or family member suffering from the disease.
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