The word ‘dementia’ describes 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.
Dementia is caused when the brain is damaged by diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease or a series of strokes. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, but not the only one.
The specific symptoms that someone with dementia experiences will depend on the parts of the brain that are damaged and the disease that is causing the dementia
What are the most common symptoms of dementia?
The different types of dementia tends to affect people differently, especially in the early stages. Other factors that will affect how well someone can live with dementia include how other people respond to them and the environment around them.
A person with dementia will have cognitive symptoms (to do with thinking or memory). They will often have problems with some of the following:
difficulty recalling events that happened recently
difficulties making decisions, solving problems or carrying out a sequence of tasks (such as cooking a meal)
difficulties following a conversation or finding the right word for something
problems judging distances (such as on stairs) and seeing objects in three dimensions
losing track of the day or date, or becoming confused about where they are
A person with dementia will also often have changes in their mood. For example, they may become frustrated or irritable, apathetic or withdrawn, anxious, easily upset or unusually sad. With some types of dementia, the person may see things that are not really there (visual hallucinations) or strongly believe things that are not true (delusions).
What is Alzheimer’s disease?
Dementia is the name for a set of symptoms that includes memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving or language. Dementia develops when the brain is damaged by diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease is a physical disease that affects the brain. It is named after Alois Alzheimer, the doctor who first described it.
The brain is made up of billions of nerve cells that connect to each other. In Alzheimer’s disease, connections between these cells are lost. This is because proteins build up and form abnormal structures called ‘plaques’ and ‘tangles’. Eventually nerve cells die and brain tissue is lost.
The brain also contains important chemicals that help to send signals between cells. People with Alzheimer’s have less of some of these ‘chemical messengers’ in their brain, so the signals are not passed on as well. There are some drug treatments for Alzheimer’s disease that can help boost the levels of some chemical messengers in the brain. This can help with some of the symptoms.
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease. This means that gradually, over time, more parts of the brain are damaged. As this happens, more symptoms develop, and they also get worse.
More than 520,000 people in the UK have dementia caused by Alzheimer’s disease and this figure is set to rise.
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