What is dementia?

The Alzheimer’s Society definition of dementia is: ‘a set of symptoms that may include memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving or language. These changes are often small to start with, but for someone with dementia they have become severe enough to affect daily life. A person with dementia may also experience changes in their mood or behaviour.’

Can dementia be prevented?

It is difficult to say what factors cause a particular person to develop dementia. Activities that lead to the narrowing of the arteries, so lack of exercise, smoking and high blood pressure can increase the risk. However there are a few things that can reduce the likelihood of developing dementia.

Maintaining a healthy weight, not drinking alcohol and keeping active have all been shown to reduce the risk of developing dementia. This is particularly true when in midlife.

Keeping your mind active by reading, completing puzzles and maintaining a social life, so visiting friends, volunteering, taking part in a hobby with others, can all help to reduce the risk of dementia.

Adopting these healthy lifestyle choices will also reduce the likelihood of developing other conditions including cancer, heart disease and stroke.

What causes dementia?

There are several different diseases that can result in dementia. Some of the more common ones are outlined below:

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia. Problems with day-to-day memory are likely to be the first symptom. Other symptoms that could suggest Alzheimer’s disease are difficulties finding and mixing up words, making decisions, perceiving things in 3D and solving problems. Alzheimer’s disease is caused when an abnormal protein surrounds brain cells and another protein damages their internal structure. Over time these alterations to the brain cause the connections between cells to deteriorate.

Vascular disease is caused when the oxygen supply to the brain is disrupted. This is caused when the arteries leading to the brain become narrowed or blocked and damage or kill the affected brain cells. If a person has had a large stroke, symptoms can appear suddenly. However, symptoms can also appear more gradually after a series of smaller strokes. Symptoms can include trouble problem-solving and planning, and they may for short periods of time become very confused.

Mixed dementia is if a person has more than one type of dementia disease. They will exhibit symptoms from different forms of dementia disease. It is common for someone to develop Alzheimer’s disease alongside a vascular dementia.

Dementia with Lewy bodies is caused when small abnormal structures known as Lewy bodies form inside cells in the brain. Their presence disrupts the brain chemistry and can lead to the death of that cell. Unlike in other dementia diseases, a person’s everyday memory will be affected less in the early stages. However, other symptoms of dementia with Lewy bodies can include hallucinations, trouble determining distances and differing levels of alertness during the course of the day. This form of dementia is closely related to Parkinson’s disease and people with it experience some of the same symptoms and difficulty with mobility.

Frontotemporal dementia (including Pick’s disease) is where the front and sides of the brain are affected. It is caused by abnormal proteins sticking together inside of brain cells and causing those cells to die. Depending on which areas of the brain are damaged, the first symptoms may be changes to the person’s behaviour or personality. It can also affect their speech and understanding of what some words mean.

There are also rarer forms of dementia that make up to 5% of dementia and are more commonly found in those who develop the disease under the age of 65.

How to treat dementia

Currently there is no cure for dementia. However, there is research into this area continuing all the time. There are a variety of treatments available to help a person with dementia live well with the disease. They can choose to follow a drug or non-drug treatment option.

More information and advice on both forms of treatment can be found about this on the Alzheimer’s website.

Advice and Support

If you are concerned about yourself or someone close to you, then seek advice from your GP.

You can also find information on the NHS website.

There is also a wealth of information provided by the Alzheimer’s Society UK website.

For legal advice and information on Lasting Powers of Attorney, then please visit our website.