Normal Ageing vs Dementia: Understanding the Differences

On Wednesday, February 9, 2023, forty senior citizens from the Church of Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Sts Chastan and Imbert (NBVM/SCIC) attended a talk on the differences between normal aging and dementia. The talk was initiated by Stephen Francis and was presented by Dr. Cecilia Chan, a gerontologist, dementia advocate, and activist.

Dr Cecilia highlighted that merely memory loss could be just a normal ageing process or a symptom of dementia, which can only be confirmed through a PET scan. With the help of life stories, case studies, and PowerPoint slides, she was able to enlighten the senior citizens about dementia, its misconceptions, and the role of loved ones, care-givers, and society in helping people who live with it.

According to Dr Cecilia, dementia is caused by gradual structural and chemical changes in various parts of the brain, which can lead to a change in size and number of neurons or nerves in the brain, thus affecting the gradual loss of those abilities related to brain changes. People often equate memory loss with dementia, but it is not just memory loss but also changes in behaviour. Although dementia cannot be prevented or cured, the risk of developing it can be reduced by maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including physical exercise, eating well, taking care of one’s heart, engaging in social interactions, continuing to use one’s skills, reducing stress, getting enough sleep, and avoiding smoking.

Dr Cecilia also touched upon the societal stigma surrounding dementia, where people are often labelled as “living dead” or “zombies” and “locked away” from society. She emphasized that instead of shunning them, we should change our attitudes and perceptions towards people living with dementia and reach out to them with love and care. Many people are so scared of being diagnosed with dementia that they refuse to seek aid until it’s too late, and it’s Dr Cecilia’s purpose as a dementia activist to debunk these myths and engage people with dementia and their care-givers in workshops to help them manage their lives.

An attendee who learned that dementia is an umbrella term for many types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s, shared a personal experience of someone she knows who has dementia but still continues to use her manipulative skills through social interactions, dancing, and singing. This served as a testament to the importance of continuing to engage in activities that challenge the mind and maintain one’s skills.

Dr Cecilia’s talk was a valuable and enlightening experience for those who attended. It provided a much-needed voice to help dispel the myths surrounding dementia and emphasised the importance for support and understanding for those living with this condition. – AM