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Some facts about Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease

their importance to Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has one of the world’s fastest ageing populations. According to recent projections, nearly 20% of Sri Lankans in 2020 will be those over 60 years. By 2031, Sri Lanka’s population is expected to start declining, which means that the proportion of the elderly will rise even further.
As Sri Lanka’s population continues to age, illnesses like dementia and Alzheimer’s will become more prevalent in the community. Although these illnesses are not always age-related, they are often associated with old age as they relate to declining memory, and the risk of contracting these diseases increases with age –
Dementia could also be caused by a stroke, tumour or head injury, which could happen to younger people as well.

Many think that Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are one and the same, but the two diagnoses are different. Dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to affect the performance of daily activities and routine. Dementia is not a specific disease – it’s an umbrella term that describes a wide range of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person’s ability to perform everyday activities. This is similar to someone who has a sore throat. Although their throat is sore, the cause/s of the symptom may not be known. It could be due to an allergy, strep throat, or a common cold. Similarly, when someone has dementia they are experiencing symptoms without knowing exactly what is causing those symptoms. Some forms of dementia, such as a drug interaction or a vitamin deficiency, are temporary and can be cured, and are not a normal part of ageing.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia and accounts for 60% to 80% of cases. Alzheimer’s is a degenerative and incurable disease. The symptoms gradually worsen over time.
Memory loss could be a natural part of ageing and must not be confused with memory loss that stems from Alzheimer’s.

What’s the difference?

Signs of Alzheimer’s/dementia Typical age-related changes
Poor judgment and decision making Making a bad decision once in a while
Inability to manage a budget Missing a monthly payment
Losing track of the date, month, year Forgetting which day it is and remembering later
Difficulty having a conversation Sometimes forgetting which word to use
Misplacing things and being unable to retrace steps to find them Losing things from time to time


Each person is unique and will experience dementia in their own way. The different types of dementia tend to affect people differently, especially in the early stages. How others respond to the person, and how supportive the person’s surroundings are, also greatly affect how well someone can live with dementia.
How quickly dementia progresses varies greatly from person to person. As dementia progresses, the person may develop behaviours that seem unusual or out of character. These behaviours may include repetitive questioning, pacing, restlessness or agitation. They can be distressing or challenging for the person and those around them.
A person with dementia will often have changes in their mood as well. For example, they may become frustrated or irritable, withdrawn, anxious, easily upset or unusually sad. With some types of dementia, the person may see things that are not really there, ie.- hallucinate, or believe things that are not true, ie.- have delusions.
In the later stages of dementia, the person will need more and more support to carry out everyday tasks. However, many people with dementia maintain their independence and live well for years after their diagnosis.

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