Dementia is not a single disease; it’s an all-encompassing term describing a range of symptoms.

Dementia affects memory, perception, behaviour, language and personality. Alzheimers is the most common and well-known form of dementia.

I am not going to attempt to outline the medical causes and the reasons in this article – I am not a doctor. I do however understand the statistics and they are frightening – 1 in 10 Australians over the age of 65 will be affected and, even worse, if you make it to 85 your chances are increased threefold.

So how do you recognise if you or someone you care about is being impacted by dementia?

While the early stages of dementia are not easy to identify, be aware of:

Judgement: Decreasing or poor judgement calls
Memory: Frequent memory loss affecting daily activities
Thinking: Increasing inability with abstract thinking
Language: Forgetting simple words
Initiative: Demotivation and loss of initiative
Losing things: Misplacing items or leaving them in inappropriate places
Tasks: Difficulty performing familiar tasks
Personality: Changes in personality, mood or behaviour
Disorientation: With time and place

As we age, what can we do to minimize
the risk factors?

Areas you can control include:

Physical activity: Remember to move
Mental stimulation: Read, do puzzles, learn new skills
Social isolation: Do not lock yourself away
Relaxation and sleep: Try to get a regular good night’s sleep
Diet: Poor diet can affect your overall health, not just dementia
Smoking and excess alcohol: To be avoided.

Unfortunately, we can’t control age and genetics.

One more area that we can have some control overis decisions about our financial circumstances. 

It’s important that you prepare for the possibility that you may require someone to make decisions on your behalf sometime in the future. Think about: 

Power of Attorney: Who would you appoint? What type should they have? It’s important that you appoint someone you trust, who is aware of your wishes, and has the competence to look after your financial affairs.

Will: Ensure your will is up to date and relevant to your circumstances. Your nominated executor of your estate should be competent, trustworthy and able to carry out your wishes.

Advanced Health Directives: These provide directions about how you wish to be cared for in certain circumstances.

It’s important to have these difficult discussions with your family. Ensure they’re aware of your wishes, and what you have put in place to manage your finances and your health. If you have a financial adviser, be sure your family knows who they are and, of course, make sure people know where your important documents are stored.

Waiting until your health starts to deteriorate is too late. If you are deemed not competent, a guardian could be appointed to look after your affairs with a family member operating as an administrator. *

*This can be different in every state.