September is World Alzheimer’s Month. It’s also Dementia Action Week.

People unite from all corners of the world to raise awareness and challenge the stigma that persists around Alzheimer’s disease and all types of dementia.

We at Narara Valley Medical thought we’d put Alzheimer’s in focus to help us all become better informed.

What is Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a progressive brain disorder. It affects memory, thinking, and behaviour.

According to Alzheimer’s Australia, it affects about one in ten people over the age of 65 and three in ten people over 85. However, it is not a normal part of ageing.

There are two known types.

  • * Sporadic AD is the most common and occurs after the age of 65.
  • * Early-onset AD (or ‘hereditary’) makes up about 5 per cent of cases. This is frequently misdiagnosed. This presents when the person is much younger, usually in their 40s or 50s.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, a broad term for severe cognitive decline that interferes with daily life. 

Currently, 55 million people are living with Alzheimer’s disease around the world. As populations age, this number is projected to triple by 2050. It is a World Health issue of concern.

In Australia, over 400,000 people are living with dementia, and Alzheimer’s contributes to the majority of these cases.

It affects more women than men. Two in every three people with Alzheimer’s are living in the community.

What are the risk factors of Alzheimer’s disease?

While the exact cause of Alzheimer’s Disease remains unclear, scientists believe it involves a combination of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors.

The main risk factors for developing AD include:

  • * Age
  • * Mild cognitive impairment or traumatic brain injury
  • * Family members having AD
  • * Genetics (researchers have identified several risk genes but the genes that guarantee a person will develop Alzheimer’s are very rare)
  • * Cardiovascular disease (where the brain may not receive enough blood or nutrients)

What are the causes of Alzheimer’s?

There are two known observations of a brain with Alzheimer’s disease.

  • * Amyloid plaques are the buildup of abnormal proteins that accumulate outside the brain cells and interfere with signalling
  • * Neurofibrillary tangles (also known as tau) can also accumulate inside brain cells and block the nutrients the cells need. This can result in cell death.

As the brain cells die, the brain shrinks.

Watch how Alzheimer’s changes the brain.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms may include:

  • * losing interest in hobbies
  • * being less willing to try new things
  • * less able to cope with change
  • * difficulty with money or often losing money
  • * mood changes
  • * becoming lost or disoriented
  • * difficulty shopping or preparing food

What are the stages of Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s progresses through several stages. In the early stage, individuals may experience mild memory lapses and have difficulty finding words. 

As the disease advances, cognitive impairments worsen, leading to challenges in recognising loved ones, managing personal care, and navigating daily tasks. 

In the late stages, individuals become largely dependent on caregivers and are typically bedridden.

How is Alzheimer’s diagnosed?

There is no single test for diagnosing AD. Diagnoses involve a comprehensive assessment of cognitive function, medical history, and physical examinations.

Your doctor at Narara Valley may ask about your memory, experiences and symptoms.

A physical checkup, cognitive tests, as well as urine and blood tests may be ordered.

You may be referred for neurological tests and brain imaging to help rule out other conditions.

Early diagnosis allows for better management of symptoms and planning for the future.


Most of the treatments for AD focus on reducing the symptoms to enhance the quality of life.

However, research is moving quickly. As we learn more about the disease, more treatments will become available.

A number of services are available in communities for people who support those with Alzheimer’s and for people living with it. Social activities, art classes, excursions, and respite care are some examples.

How can it be prevented?

What’s good for the heart, is good for the brain.

That means if we look after our heart health, we are helping protect our brain at the same time.

A nutritious diet, physical activity, social engagement, and mentally stimulating pursuits have all been helping people stay healthy as they age.

Learning another language or a musical instrument can help your brain form stronger connections and grow.

Eating a healthy diet, such as the Mediterranean and MIND diet, can provide neuroprotective compounds. Green leafy vegetables, berries, fish or flax seeds, and limiting sugar and red meat are part of this diet.

Reducing chronic inflammation by eating food rich in antioxidants is an important step. Think fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes like beans and lentils, nuts and seafood. At the same time, minimise too much salt, sugar, and saturated fat.

Research has also shown that a brisk walk three times (or more) per week will also reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

These lifestyle habits are likely to lower the risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s.

Now research appears promising that we may have much more control in delaying or stopping Alzheimer’s than previously thought.

Services on the Central Coast

There are various organisations and services where you may find further information and support.

Central Coast Dementia Alliance

Central Coast Dementia Advisory Group

Dementia Support Australia

Central Coast Positive Ageing Strategy 2020-2025 (pdf)

Healthdirect has more information about Alzheimer’s disease

General information reminder

This article was prepared for Narara Valley Medical and is general in nature. It shouldn’t be considered as personal advice.

If you are seeking specific medical advice, nothing beats a consultation with a good doctor. Please call us to make an appointment.