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Dementia is an umbrella term for a number of progressive neurological disorders characterised by changes in cognition, behaviour and personality; changes which over time, compromise the individual's ability to carry out everyday activities of living.1, 2

Dementia is characterised by prominent memory impairment, with additional deficits in language and semantic knowledge, abstract reasoning, executive functioning, attention, and visuospatial abilities.2

Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia, representing between 60 to 80% of cases3. Dementia most commonly affects individuals over age 65 years, but younger onset dementia can affect individuals in their 40s and 50s.

While no treatment to reverse the symptoms of dementia exists, psychological interventions have been developed to assist persons with dementia and their families cope with the symptoms of dementia and the stresses of care-giving.4, 5 Evidence-based psychological interventions also exist to assist individuals with dementia manage mood disorders or symptoms of anxiety.6

A wider range of dementia-specific assessment tools and screening instruments for both persons with dementia and caregivers have been developed. Many of these assessment tools involve informant ratings of prior or current functioning in behavioural, affective and cognitive domains.

Psychologists working with individuals with dementia and their families can support positive intervention outcomes through facilitating good liaison between the family and other health and mental health professionals.7

Evidence-based interventions with persons with dementia include cognitive and behavioural approaches8, 9 and, with a limited evidence-base, reminiscence-based approaches.10

Evidence-based interventions with carers include cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)11 and a nascent literature on acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)12, psycho-education, and teaching coping strategies.13

A variety of psychosocial strategies to assist persons with dementia, professional carers, and families in residential aged care settings have also received good empirical support for improving quality of life and wellbeing in these settings.14-16

Specialist referral for neuropsychological testing by a neuropsychologist, and a medical examination to rule out other potential causes of cognitive decline might be warranted. 

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  • Contributor(s)
    Prof Nancy A. Pachana, Ph.D., FAPS
    Ageing Mind Initiative
    University of Queensland
  • Publish date
    24 Jun 2013
  • References

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