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Understanding dementia

Dementia is commonly misunderstood and sadly sometimes remains stigmatised.

One person in 20 aged over 65, and one in four over 85, have dementia. An estimated 800,000 people are affected in the UK and 35 million worldwide. With our ageing population, dementia is expected to double by the middle of the century.

Dementia is an umbrella term for lots of diseases and conditions. These dementia conditions include; Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia and Dementia with Lewy bodies. These are the 3 most prevalent or commonly occurring dementias in the UK. Although these conditions share similar characteristics and symptoms, as set out below, the course of the dementia may vary.

  • Forgetting recent things they did
  • Being less interested in activities or taking less care of themselves
  • Being reluctant to try new things
  • Being less able to make decisions or plans
  • Becoming slower to understand ideas
  • Showing a tendency to accuse others of ‘hiding’ or ‘stealing’ items
  • Becoming increasingly self-centred
  • Losing the ability to concentrate
  • Becoming restless and unsettled
  • Appear to have a change of personality
  • Suffer mood changes, becoming withdrawn, sad, anxious or sometimes angry
  • Repeat words, phrases or actions
  • Forgetting recent events and conversations
  • Lose reading and writing skills
  • Getting lost within a familiar environment
  • Neglect hygiene or eating
  • See or hear things that are not there
  • Incontinence

There are over 100 types of dementia. Below you will find some of the more common.

Alzheimers disease

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common cause of dementia. This disease causes loss of nerve cells in the brain and over time all functions and activities, may become impaired as the brain shrinks.

Alzheimer’s particularly impacts on awareness of time and place. People may become disorientated and feel the need to wander from home. The ability of those with Alzheimer’s disease gradually deteriorate slowly and becomes worse as times passes.

Korsakoff’s syndrome

Korsakoff’s syndrome is a brain disorder usually associated with heavy alcohol consumption over a long period of time. Although Korsakoff’s syndrome is not strictly speaking a dementia, people with the condition experience loss of short-term memory.

Vascular dementia

By contrast, Vascular dementia or Multi infarct dementia is caused by strokes or infarcts. The interruption of the blood supply to specific parts of the brain can result in permanent brain damage.

Typically an older person will have a Transient Isthaemic Attack (TIA) or a mini stroke, frequently at night. They may recover a little over the following days or weeks but then this TIA may occur again. Causing further deterioration. Some 20% of people with dementia are affected by both Alzheimer’s disease and Vascular dementia.

Dementia with Lewy bodies

Dementia with Lewy bodies affects fewer people than Alzheimer’s disease or Vascular dementia. Lewy bodies are tiny protein deposits found in brain cells that block the action of chemical messengers, crucial for normal brain function.

The ability and behaviour of people with this type of dementia can show a marked difference, sometimes from hour to hour, and visual hallucinations are common. Those affected may have difficulties with balance, walk stiffly and slowly which makes them more prone to a fall. As with  people with Parkinson’s, they may often have a tremor. These two diseases overlap, and up to a third of people with Parkinson’s will develop dementia.