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What is Dementia?

Updated: Jul 12, 2023

Dementia is a word, a term, to describe symptoms including memory loss and difficulty with thinking, problem-solving and/or language.

Changes are often small and subtle to begin with, but for someone with dementia, they are probably severe enough to affect their daily life along with changes in their behaviour and mood.

Dementia occurs when the brain is damaged by disease; its symptoms dependent on the part of the brain where damage has been caused.

Types of Dementia

Dementia describes conditions that affect the brain, including:

Alzheimer’s disease – Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia and is caused by disconnected brain cells.

Vascular dementia – related to brain’s blood supply.

Frontotemporal – otherwise known as Pick’s disease or frontal lobe dementia. This is less common with symptoms including personality and behaviour changes.

Dementia with Lewy bodies – shares symptoms with both Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

Mixed-dementia – where more than one type of dementia is identified, more commonly Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia.

Young onset dementia – dementia developed in those younger than 65 years of age.

Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease – caused when abnormal protein known as ‘prion’ infects the brain.

Alcohol-related dementia – brain damage caused by regularly drinking too much alcohol, over many years.

HIV-associated neurocognitive disorder – cognitive impairment is sometimes developed in people with HIV and AIDS.

Mild cognitive impairment – minor cognitive problems, affecting mental ability including memory or thinking.

Learning disabilities and dementia – those with learning disabilities and Down’s Syndrome have an increased risk of developing dementia.

Rarer types of dementia – about 1 in 20 people have a rarer type of dementia. Huntingdon’s disease is one of many.

Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s is a physical disease affecting the brain and is the most common form of dementia.

It is caused when the connection between nerve cells in the brain disconnect due to protein build-up and abnormal structures.

The nerve cells die, and brain tissue is lost. Early signs affect the memory, remembering past event and learning new information.

Symptoms & Diagnosis

Symptoms of can dementia include:

  • Memory loss

  • Changes in behaviour

  • Communication

  • Aggression

  • Sight and hearing loss

  • Walking about

  • Sleep disturbance

If you are noticing changes in yourself – or someone else – then make an appointment with your doctor for an assessment.


Unfortunately, there is no cure for dementia, however there are treatments that can help reduce symptoms.

Drugs can help manage behavioural and psychological symptoms, but there are also many drug-free treatments that can help too, including talking therapy and person-centred care; care that is tailored specifically to a person’s interests, hobbies, history and personality.

Alternative therapies can also help with symptoms including sleep, stress, and anxiety.

Risk Factors

Age is the strongest risk factor and unfortunately our risk of dementia changes with age:

Under 60s – 0.1 people will have dementia

60-64 years – 1 out of 100

65-69 years – 2 out of 100

70-74 years – 3 out of 100

75-79 years – 6 out of 100

80-84 years – 11 out of 100

85-89 years – 18 out of 100

90-94 years – 30 out of 100

95 over – 41 out of 100

But age is not the only risk. Our chance of getting dementia can be influenced by genetics, ethnicity, lifestyle choices and health.

Keep an eye on your blood pressure, exercise regularly, follow a healthy diet (reduce the amount of red meat and sugar may help) and, if you smoke, you’d be advised to stop as it is thought to reduce your risk to the same level as non-smokers.


1. Dementia is not a natural part of ageing.

2. Dementia is caused by diseases of the brain.

3. It’s not just about losing your memory.

4. People can still live well with dementia.

5. There is help and support out there.

Alzheimer’s Society


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