What is Dementia?

Indigenous Perspectives and Cultural Understandings

Health Care Providers
Understandings of Dementia

Dementia is an overall term for a set of symptoms that are caused by disorders affecting the brain.”

Source: Alzheimer Society Canada

Dementia affects older people and causes their mind to gradually lose some of its ability. People with dementia often have trouble remembering things, understanding words, and planning or carrying out complex activities.”

Source: Mamow Ahyamowen Partnership, Learning from our Ancestors: Mortality Experience of Communities Served by Maamwesying North Shore Community Health Services, May 2019.
  • “Other dementias” resemble Alzheimer’s disease in that they also involve a progressive degeneration of brain cells that is currently irreversible. There are many different types of dementia, although some are far more common than others.
  • A small percentage of dementias are reversible, occurring as a secondary development in treatable conditions. Toxic reactions to prescription or over the counter medications are the most common cause of reversible dementia. Others include dietary or vitamin B12 deficiencies, infections, tumours, alcoholism, inflammatory states, hormonal dysfunction, environmental toxins, drug abuse, and depression.
    • Young onset dementia
    • Mild Cognitive Impairment
    • Vascular dementia
    • Mixed dementia
    • Frontotemporal dementia
    • Lewy body dementia
    • Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
    • Down syndrome
    • Rarer forms of dementia
Source: https://alzheimer.ca/en/Home/About-dementia/Dementias
  • Alzheimer’s disease is irreversible and destroys brain cells, causing thinking ability and memory to deteriorate. Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of aging.
  • Two hallmarks of the disease
    • “plaques,” which are numerous tiny, dense deposits scattered throughout the brain that become toxic to brain cells at excessive levels.
    • “tangles,” which interfere with vital processes, eventually choking off the living cells. When brain cells degenerate and die, the brain markedly shrinks in some regions.
  • Watch the educational video (link below) on the difference between Alzheimer’s disease and dementia
Source: https://alzheimer.ca/en/Home/About-dementia/Alzheimers-disease

Anishinaabek Perspectives on the Early Signs of Dementia

Group photo of the Elders at the EPIC Symposium
April 2019 – Sault Ste. Marie, ON.

The following perspectives represent the teachings shared by the Caregivers, Elders and Health Care Providers that participated in the EPIC project from the Anishinaabek communities on Manitoulin Island and the North Shore.

  • Early warning signs of dementia could be different for every person.
  • Memory loss is seen as part of the aging process, and dementia may get missed.
  • It comes very quietly and can be hard to recognize.
  • In time, you notice more warning signs happening.


Download resources, access links, and watch videos about dementia care.

This project is funded by

Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care

Project Partners