What is dementia?

Overview

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Dementia is an umbrella term for over 100 different types of diseases and symptoms, and it's possibly to have more than one type.

Dementia is the progressive loss of the powers of the brain. What all these diseases have in common is that they damage and kill brain cells, so that the brain cannot work as well as it should..

In Scotland, over 90,000 people have dementia. It is most common in older people but can affect people in their 40s or 50s or even younger.

We do not yet know exactly what causes dementia. Medical researchers all over the world are working to find causes and develop treatments.

Types of dementia

There are many conditions which cause dementia - these are some of the most common. It is also possible to have more than one type of dementia at the same time.

Alzheimer’s disease gradually destroys brain cells and their connections. This affects how the person copes with everyday tasks.

Vascular dementia is caused by problems with the blood supply to brain cells. It can involve tiny strokes which damage small areas of the brain.

Dementia with Lewy bodies isn’t as easy to identify as some other types of dementia, so it can be hard to diagnose. It can include hallucinations and symptoms that are similar to Parkinson’s disease.

In frontotemporal dementias, the parts of the brain responsible for decision-making, control of behaviour and emotion and language are affected.

Find out more about the different types of dementia.

What are the symptoms of dementia?


Every person with dementia is different. How their illness affects them depends on which areas of their brain are most damaged.

Memory loss is one of the most common symptoms of dementia. Everyone forgets things sometimes and most people’s memory gets worse as they get older. But when someone has dementia they may become very forgetful. For example, they may forget the names of family members or whether they have eaten lunch or not. They may repeat questions again and again without realising.

People with dementia may lose track of the time and day. They may forget where they are or be confused. Their ability to think and work things out can be affected. They may make decisions that seem strange to us. Handling money may become difficult and they may find it difficult to solve problems.

Dementia can also change the person’s personality and the way they behave. Someone who was active and energetic may become listless. A person who was pleasant and polite may become rude and aggressive.

Over several years, most functions of the brain will gradually be affected. Eventually, a person with dementia will probably need help with simple activities like dressing, eating or going to the toilet.

What should I do if I'm worried?

It is very important not to jump to conclusions. Confusion or forgetfulness does not mean someone has dementia; nor is dementia an inevitable part of growing older. Many other conditions, such as infections, depression or the side effects of medicines can cause similar problems. If you are worried, see your doctor.

Being diagnosed with dementia early on means there is more time to come to terms with the illness. This will make it easier to plan for the future and find help and support. In some cases there are treatments that may help with some of the symptoms of dementia.

Support after diagnosis

Anyone in Scotland receiving a diagnosis of dementia is entitled to at least one year's support after diagnosis from a named and trained person called a Dementia Link Worker (or similar job title).  The Link Worker works with the person with dementia and his or her partner and family to help them understand the diagnosis, learn to cope with symptoms, and live well with dementia, now and in the future.

If you, or someone you know, has dementia, it may be hard to come to terms with the illness.  Talk to someone about how you feel and what you can to live as well as possible.  You can call the 24 hour Dementia Helpline free on 0808 808 3000 at any time or e-mail helpline@alzscot.org

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