Dementia is a cognitive syndrome (a group of related symptoms) that is associated with an ongoing decline in brain function. Dementia impacts daily life for those who have it, with many being unable to control their emotions and experiencing changes in their personality.

It can be common to get forgetful when you get older, however, Dementia is not a natural part of ageing. Dementia is not just about losing memory, it also affects the way you speak, think, feel and behave.

There are different levels of severity for Dementia. The mildest stage is when a person’s functioning starts to become affected, to the most severe stage is when someone is completely reliant on others for basic tasks like feeding themselves or bathing.

What are The Symptoms of Dementia?

The signs and symptoms of Dementia can vary from person to person depending on the type. Signs of Dementia may include:

  • Memory loss
  • Confusion and poor judgement
  • Trouble speaking, understanding and expressing thoughts
  • Difficulty reading or writing
  • Repeatedly asking questions
  • Handling money irresponsibly and not paying bills on time
  • Getting lost in a familiar place
  • Using words incorrectly
  • Acting impulsively
  • Difficulty performing daily activities or losing interest
  • Experiencing delusions, hallucinations or having paranoia
  • Uninterested in other people’s feelings
  • Poor balance and problems with movement

People with Dementia can often struggle in social situations and lose interest in relationships. This can also impact their ability to understand others and show compassion and empathy.

Meanwhile, Dementia can also cause a person to see or hear things others don’t, like hearing voices or strange noises. The condition affects a person’s mental capabilities, instances such as planning a day out or organising an event can be difficult for people with Dementia.

As they lose their ability to remember information or not fully understand their environments, people with Dementia often struggle to maintain their independence.

Dementia symptoms usually get worse over time, and those with it need help from family or friends when making decisions. In the later stages of Dementia, people can become unable to look after themselves or communicate with others.

What are the Different Types of Dementia?

Dementia isn’t a disease itself. It's a collection of symptoms that occur from damage to the brain, and the symptoms can vary depending on which part of the brain is damaged. 

There are several different forms of Dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, which is the most common in older adults. Other types include Vascular Dementia, Lewy body Dementia and Frontotemporal Dementia.

Alzheimer's Disease

Accounting for around 60% of UK diagnoses, Alzheimer’s is a type of Dementia that causes a gradual decline in memory, social skills and ability to function.

Alzheimer’s Symptoms:

  • Forgetting people’s names, faces and events
  • Asking questions over and over
  • Finding tasks and activities which require organisation or planning is very difficult
  • Trouble with numbers and money
  • Being anxious or distant towards people

Vascular Dementia

This is another form of Dementia, the second most common after Alzheimer’s. People can have both Alzheimer’s disease and Vascular Dementia which is often referred to as “Mixed Dementia”.

People with Vascular Dementia may experience similar symptoms to those with Alzheimer’s. However, memory loss may not be as obvious in the first stages.

Symptoms of Vascular Dementia can develop at any rate and get worse fast but can do the opposite and gradually develop over months, even years.

Vascular Dementia Symptoms:

  • Muscle weakness or temporary paralysis and stroke-like symptoms
  • Difficulty walking and movement problems
  • Trouble keeping attention and thinking
  • Becoming more emotional, depressed and changes in mood

Lewy Body Dementia

Another common form of Dementia is Lewy Body Dementia. Caused when there is a build-up of proteins in the brain, Dementia with Lewy Body (DLB) is progressive and causes a person to decline in their thinking, reasoning and ability to function independently.

DLB Symptoms:

  • Being confused or having repeated instances of being alert or drowsy
  • Fluctuating levels of confusion
  • Sleep disturbances and shouting out
  • Hallucinations and hearing voices
  • Being slower in physical movement, stiff limbs and tremors
  • Fainting, unsteadiness and falling
  • Becoming depressed or anxious

Frontotemporal Dementia

Known as a rare type of Dementia, Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD) is when the front and sides of the brain are damaged. Despite Dementia usually affecting people aged over 65, FTD often starts at a younger age, with most diagnosed between 45-65 years old.  

As with most Dementia types, FTD develops slowly and gradually becomes worse over the years.

FTD Symptoms:

  • Reduced sensitivity to other people’s feelings, being cold and unapproachable
  • Lacking social awareness, making inappropriate jokes or being very withdrawn and not present
  • Trouble finding the correct words or understanding others
  • Becoming obsessive with certain foods or overeating and drinking

Diagnosing Dementia

In some cases, getting an early Dementia diagnosis means its progress can be slowed down and the person can maintain their mental function for longer.

Despite there being no cure for the condition, a diagnosis can help people and their families prepare for the future. It also helps people to get the right treatment and support.

To diagnose Dementia, doctors assess if a person has any underlying condition (potentially treatable) which could relate to cognitive difficulties.

Other ways to test if a person has Dementia include:

  • Cognitive and neurological tests
  • Brain scans: Computed tomography (CT), Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), Positron emission tomography (PET)
  • Psychiatric evaluation
  • Genetic tests
  • Blood tests

Living with Dementia

Dementia not only affects the person with it but also those around them. For those who have been diagnosed, it’s important to focus on the things they can do and still enjoy and stay positive.

Getting the right help and support allows people with Dementia to do well and live well for several years.

Here are some tips to help you, or someone you know that’s living with Dementia:

  • Look after your health – eat a balanced healthy diet, ensure you are getting enough sleep, exercise regularly, and attend your checkups with the GP.
  • Share your diagnosis with family and friends – When you’re ready, it’s best to share with others what you have trouble with. Explaining your diagnosis to others allows them to learn about Dementia and provide support. Having supportive people around you can help, and another good way to live with Dementia is through support groups.
  • Keeping socially active – Doing the things you enjoy is good for self-confidence and well-being. Many places like cinemas and leisure centres are now Dementia friendly. You may also find joining a Dementia-friendly group can help those living with Dementia by sharing experiences and learning helpful tips.

Memory loss and thinking problems are common for those living with Dementia which can be distressing.

Here are a few tips to help cope living with Dementia:

  • Keep a list of emergency contacts and helpful phone numbers
  • Establish a regular routine
  • Use a pill organiser box to help remember to take your medicine
  • Use a weekly timetable and include activities you have planned (a good place to put them is on the kitchen wall or the fridge)
  • Set up direct debits for regular bills so you pay them on time
  • Put your keys in an obvious place like a top drawer in the kitchen or a fruit bowl