What is Dementia?

Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe the set of symptoms that occur when the brain is damaged by specific diseases and illnesses. Common symptoms of dementia include:

  • memory loss
  • confusion
  • mood change
  • disorientation
  • problems with communication
  • problems with problem solving
  • trouble concentrating

Dementia is progressive meaning the symptoms will gradually get worse over time, although every individual’s experience will be different.

Dementia is not a natural part of growing old. It is caused by diseases of the brain with most common described below:

Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and accounts for around 400,000 cases in the UK. Abnormal proteins deposit in the brain leading to brain cell death. There is also a shortage of one of the chemicals which allows brain cells to communicate with each other. There tends to be a gradual progression of the disease with changes developing over a period of time.

Vascular Dementia

Vascular dementia is the second most common form of dementia. It is caused by problems in blood supply to the brain. Unlike Alzheimer’s disease, the symptoms of vascular dementia often come on suddenly, for example after a stroke or a series of mini strokes (TIAs). It usually has a ‘stepped’ progression with symptoms remaining at a constant level for some time and then suddenly deteriorating. People who have vascular dementia often report having good days and bad days when talking about their dementia.

Frontal Temporal Dementia

Although lesss common than Alzheimer’s disease or vascular dementia, frontal temporal dementia is a significant cause of dementia in those under the age of 65. The term ‘fronto-temporal dementia’ covers a range of conditions, including Pick’s disease, frontal lobe degeneration, and dementia associated with motor neurone disease. All are caused by damage to the frontal lobe and/or the temporal parts of the brain. These areas are responsible for our more complex thoughts such as decision making, planning and problem solving, and therefore can affect behaviour, emotional responses and language skills.

Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB)

Lewy bodies are small protein deposits which develop in the nerve cells leading to the degeneration of brain tissue. Lewy bodies are also found in the brains of people with Parkinson’s disease, a progressive neurological disease that affects movement. Many people who are initially diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease later go on to develop a dementia that closely resembles DLB.

If you are, a relative or a friend are concerned about memory loss please contact your GP to discuss your concerns with them.