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What’s the difference between normal ageing and dementia?

One of the key introductory units within the Diploma of Dementia Care and Bachelor of Dementia Care, delivered by the Wicking Dementia Research and Education Centre at the University of Tasmania, looks in depth at the differences between normal ageing and changes that occur due to dementia.

Introduction to Ageing, the Brain and Dementia (CAD101) is a challenging topic to cover for new students but is vital to the ongoing education of students in both courses. Physical and cognitive changes that occur during the ageing process are compared with age-related pathological changes that are a consequence of the diseases that cause dementia.

CAD101 is a fun and engaging introductory unit to start learning about normal ageing and dementia. The content is laid out step by step and is simple to navigate. Students are guided each step of the way and all queries are responded to quickly and thoughtfully. Students are eased into the assessment environment with online quizzes and discussion board posts, making learning relaxed and fun.

Caroline, Diploma of Dementia Care student, 2021

This is also a key introductory unit for the Diploma of Ageing Studies and Services which focuses on the need for holistic knowledge of the ageing process, bringing together the social and health-based perspectives of ageing.

Introduction to Ageing, the Brain and Dementia, is an important unit because it gives students an overview of the relationship between the normal function of the nervous system, what happens when the nervous system dysfunctions and how this can cause the clinical symptoms of dementia.

Dr Sharn Perry, Unit Coordinator

Students begin by learning that everything our body does is a result of the nervous system, the communication pathways that runs throughout our body. In this unit, we learn that knowing how our bodies make decisions, coordinate movements, and sense our environment, is imperative to understand how these processes change as our bodies age, and when these changes are a result of diseases of the nervous system, such as dementia. 

This unit helps students to understand that there is a relationship between normal function of the nervous system and our bodies, and that this nervous system function is expected to change as we age. Anticipated age-related changes occur to our physical and cognitive abilities and include a lowered reaction time and declines in hearing and vision. Students then learn that unexpected dysfunction, or pathology, of the nervous system causes changes in our physical and cognitive abilities, which can be a result of diseases that cause dementia. Even though these diseases that cause dementia lead to a dementia diagnosis and share similar clinical symptoms, the changes (or pathology) in the nervous system are different for each disease. 

I understand now that changes in the body and brain are a normal process of ageing but that with dementia we can see abnormal physical and cognitive changes and that localised pathology in the brain will relate to a pathology in specifics areas of the body.

Caroline, Diploma of Dementia Care student, 2021

In CAD101, students learn that different areas of the brain are responsible for controlling or coordinating different behaviours. In diseases that cause dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease, the nerve cells in different parts of the brain die, which causes the clinical symptoms. For example, a part of our brain known as the hippocampus is responsible for creating our memories; if nerve cells in the hippocampus die, then our memories will be affected. Understanding why people living with dementia experience different symptoms, is important for their care and treatment.

This unit provides important groundwork for the on-going study in dementia care. It will give students knowledge to help address one of the main challenges in understanding dementia – how does dementia differ from normal ageing.

Interested in studying Dementia Care?visit our website for more information.
Find out more about the Wicking Dementia Research and Education Centre.