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Word On Dementia

Our grateful thanks to Rachel Thompson an Admiral Specialist Dementia Nurse.  Admiral Nursing Direct have a a helpline provided by experienced specialist nurses for family and professional carers, people with dementia and those worried about their memory. It gives practical advice and emotional support to anyone affected by dementia. Call 0845 257 9406 (Monday to Friday from 9:15 - 16:45).  Our thanks also to NHS Choices for the information below. 

How common is dementia?  According to the Alzheimer's Society there are around 800,000 people in the UK with dementia. One in three people over 65 will develop dementia, and two-thirds of people with dementia are women.

The number of people with dementia is increasing because people are living longer. It is estimated that by 2021, the number of people with dementia in the UK will have increased to around 1 million.

What is dementia?   Dementia is a common condition that affects about 800,000 people in the UK. Your risk of developing dementia increases as you get older, and the condition usually occurs in people over the age of 65.

Dementia is a syndrome (a group of related symptoms) associated with an ongoing decline of the brain and its abilities. This includes problems with:

  • memory loss
  • thinking speed
  • mental agility
  • language
  • understanding
  • judgement

People with dementia can become apathetic or uninterested in their usual activities, and have problems controlling their emotions. They may also find social situations challenging, lose interest in socialising, and aspects of their personality may change.

A person with dementia may lose empathy (understanding and compassion), they may see or hear things that other people do not (hallucinations), or they may make false claims or statements. 

As dementia affects a person's mental abilities, they may find planning and organising difficult. Maintaining their independence may also become a problem. A person with dementia will therefore usually need help from friends or relatives, including help with decision making.

Your GP will discuss the possible causes of memory loss with you, including dementia. Other symptoms can include:

  • increasing difficulties with tasks and activities that require concentration and planning
  • depression
  • changes in personality and mood
  • periods of mental confusion
  • difficulty finding the right words

Most types of dementia can't be cured, but if it is detected early there are ways you can slow it down and maintain mental function.

Dementia is not a disease but a collection of symptoms that result from damage to the brain. These symptoms can be caused by a number of conditions. The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer's disease.

Common symptoms of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia include:

  • memory loss, especially problems with memory for recent events, such as forgetting messages, remembering routes or names, and asking questions repetitively
  • increasing difficulties with tasks and activities that require organisation and planning
  • becoming confused in unfamiliar environments
  • difficulty finding the right words
  • difficulty with numbers and/or handling money in shops
  • changes in personality and mood 
  • depression

Dementia is progressive. This means that the person's brain will become more damaged and will work less well over time, and their symptoms will tend to change and become more severe.

For this reason, it is important to talk to your GP sooner rather than later if you are worried that you may have problems with your memory.

The speed at which symptoms get worse and the way that they develop will depend on the cause of the person's dementia, their overall health and their circumstances. This means that the symptoms and experience of dementia can vary greatly from person to person.

Some people may also have more than one condition – for example, they may have Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia at the same time.

The symptoms listed above are common in all forms of dementia. However, some types of dementia have other distinctive features. These are explained below.

Symptoms of vascular dementia  The symptoms of vascular dementia can sometimes develop suddenly and quickly get worse, although they can also develop gradually over many months or years. People with vascular dementia may also experience stroke-like symptoms, including muscle weakness or paralysis on one side of their body.

Find out more about vascular dementia via the NHS Choices website .

Symptoms of dementia with Lewy bodies  Dementia with Lewy bodies shares many of the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease and people with the condition typically also experience the following:

  • periods of alertness and drowsiness or fluctuating levels of confusion 
  • visual hallucinations
  • becoming slower in their physical movements

Find out more about dementia with Lewy bodies via the NHS Choices website.

Symptoms of frontotemporal dementia.  Early symptoms of frontotemporal dementia typically include changes in emotion, personality and behaviour. For example, someone with this type of dementia may become less sensitive to other people’s emotions, perhaps making them seem cold and unfeeling.

They may also lose some of their inhibitions, leading to behaviour that is out of character, such as making tactless or inappropriate comments.

Some people with frontotemporal dementia also have language problems. This may include not speaking, speaking less than usual or having problems finding the right words.

Find out more about frontotemporal dementia via the NHS Choices website.

Symptoms in the later stages of dementia.  As dementia progresses, memory loss and difficulties with communication often become very severe. In the later stages, the person is likely to neglect their own health and require constant care and attention.

Memory symptoms in dementia. People with advanced dementia may not recognise close family and friends, they may not remember where they live or know where they are. They may find it impossible to understand simple pieces of information, carry out basic tasks or follow instructions.

Communication problems in dementia.  It is common for people with dementia to have increasing difficulty speaking and they may eventually lose the ability to speak altogether. It is important to keep trying to communicate with them and to recognise and use other, non-verbal means of communication, such as expression, touch and gestures.

Read more about communication problems in dementia via the NHS Choices website.

Problems with mobility in dementia.  Many people with dementia gradually become less able to move about unaided and may appear increasingly clumsy when carrying out everyday tasks. Some people may eventually be unable to walk and may become bedbound.

Early symptoms of dementia are often mild and may get worse only very gradually. This means that the person with dementia and those around them may not notice these signs or take them seriously for some time. Also, people with dementia sometimes do not recognise that they have any symptoms.

Why is it important to get a diagnosis?  An early diagnosis can help people with dementia get the right treatment and support, and help those close to them to prepare and plan for the future. With treatment and support, many people are able to lead active, fulfilled lives.

To learn more about dementia click here to visit the NHS Choices website.

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All material on this website is provided for your information only and may not be construed as medical advice or instruction. No action or inaction should be taken based solely on the contents of this information; instead, readers should consult appropriate health professionals on any matter relating to their health and well-being.