Types of brain disorders
Dementia & brain Injury
Dementia is a category of brain
diseases that result in memory loss and deterioration of speech,
motor skills and cognitive functioning as it
Over 321,600 Australians are currently diagnosed with dementia,
and the impacts of the disease are felt by countless more of the
carers, family and friends of those affected. Research shows that
people who have acquired a brain injury are more likely to develop
dementia in old age than the general population. Fortunately, there
are a number of changes that can be made in our own lives to reduce
our risk of dementia, and there are community organizations
dedicated to improving the quality of life of those currently
living with the disease.
What is dementia?
Dementia is a broad term used to describe a range of symptoms, the
most well-known of these being a gradual loss of a person's
memory.Other symptoms of dementia can include deterioration over
time in speech, motor skills, thinking and planning, and the
ability to carry out daily tasks.People with dementia can lose
their ability to control their own behaviour and may at times be
socially inappropriate or unaware.The disease is progressive,
meaning that symptoms become worse over time, and towards the later
stages of the disease people require full-time care from family
members or staff in a nursing home. Dementia is a terminal disease
and at present, despite the best efforts of our medical
researchers, there is no cure.
There are a number of different types of dementia, the most common
being Alzheimer's disease, and others including vascular dementia
(usually related to stroke), Parkinson's disease dementia,
alcohol-related dementia, and Lewy Body Syndrome. While the risk of
dementia increases with age, it is not a normal or natural part of
ageing.Although rare, people in their 50s, 40s and even 30s can be
diagnosed with "younger onset" dementia.
How are dementia & brain injury
Research has shown that people who have had a moderate to severe
brain injury are more likely to develop dementia in later life.The
pattern of changes seen in the brain following a moderate to severe
brain injury can appear similar to those changes seen in
Alzheimer's disease.It is not as clear whether there is an
increased risk of dementia for those who have had a mild ABI, such
as a brief concussion.
Repeated, mild ABIs, such as those experienced by professional
sports people like boxers and footballers, are related to a
condition similar to dementia known as Chronic Traumatic
Encephalopathy (CTE).This condition is also seen amongst war
veterans who have experienced repeated, mild head traumas.CTE has
particular symptoms such as changes in mood, thinking, behaviour,
and difficulties with balance and motor skills.
Reducing your risk of
Researchers at the World Health Organisation (WHO) have found that
a person is more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease if they have
diabetes, high blood pressure or depression.
A person is also at greater risk if they are obese, don't exercise
regularly, if they smoke, or if they have low levels of education.
Other types of dementia have other risk factors: for example, heavy
drinkers are more likely to develop alcohol-related dementia.
Based on these risk factors, there are five important steps that
we can take to reduce our risk of dementia:
• Look after your heart
• Be physically active and follow a healthy diet
• Mentally challenge your brain
• Enjoy social activity.
Concerned about your
If you are concerned about your memory or that of someone close to
you, it's important to speak to a doctor. A doctor will be able to
listen to your concerns and investigate a range of possible causes
of memory difficulties. An early diagnosis of dementia ensures that
a person has access to support, information and treatment options.
Additionally, it provides that person with an opportunity to be
involved in the early planning of their future care, including an
opportunity to discuss financial and lifestyle wishes. When
visiting your doctor, it may be helpful to write down your concerns
before the appointment, and consider bringing along a close friend
or family member for support.
FIVE WAYS TO REDUCE YOUR RISK OF
Look after your heart - Have your
blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar levels and weight checked
regularly by your doctor. Avoid smoking.
Be physically active - National
Physical Activity Guidelines recommend at least 30 minutes of
moderate-intensity exercise (e.g. walking, dancing, swimming,
cycling) most - but preferably all - days.
Mentally challenge your brain - For
example, learn a new skill, participate in an educational course,
read about interesting or novel topics, or have a regular, engaging
Follow a healthy diet - Eat a variety
of foods, including two serves of fruit and five serves of
vegetables per day. Limit your alcohol consumption to no more than
two standard drinks in any one day.
Enjoy a social activity - Organising
regular social outings with friends and family, joining a community
or volunteer group, or having a regular social leisure activity
(such as cards) helps keep the brain active.
More information on how to maintain brain, heart and body health
can be found at Alzheimer's Australia's website
References and further information
Thanks to Jeanette Van Luyn from Alzheimer's Australia(Qld) for
contributing this article. Visit Alzheimer's Australia(Qld)'s
website at fightdementia.org.au/Qld for a range of information
and fact sheets for people with dementia, those who care for
them, and the general community.
You can also contact the National Dementia Helpline (1800
100 500), a free telephone service that provides
information, support and advice about dementia and memory
1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare
(2012). Dementia in Australia. AIHW: Canberra.
2. Shrively, S.; Scher, A.I.; Perl, D.P.; Diaz-Arrastia, R.
(2012). Dementia resulting from traumatic brain injury: What
is the pathology? Archives of Neurology, 69(10),
3. World Health Organisation (WHO). (2012). Dementia:
A Public Health Priority. WHO: Albany, NY, USA.
4. Sampson, E.L.; Warren, J.D.; Rossor, M.N. (2004).
Young onset dementia. Postgraduate Medical Journal, 80,
5. McKee, A.C.; et al. (2010). Chronic
traumatic encephalopathy in athletes: progressive
tauopathy following repetitive head injury. Journal of
Neuropathology and Experimental Neurology, 68(7), 709-735.