Dementia is a general term used to describe a group of symptoms caused by different brain disorders. There are many different types of dementia.

Younger people can develop dementia, but the risk increases as you get older. 

Main indications of dementia

It is normal, especially as we get older, for our memories to become slower. Changes such as finding it challenging to remember places and names are to be expected.

An indication that some form of dementia is occurring would be a mental decline severe enough to disrupt daily life.

This could be one or more of the following root brain functions:

  • Language – the capacity to speak, write and communicate, as well as understanding of the written and spoken word
  • Recent memory – the ability to learn as well as recall information
  • Executive function – the capacity to plan, solve problems, focus and reason
  • Visuospatial function – being able to understand and use symbols, maps etc.

Common types of dementia, explained:

Dementia is an umbrella term that is used to describe the symptoms above. The following are types of dementia within this, and people can have more than one type of dementia at the same time:

Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer’s disease (along with vascular dementia) make up the majority of dementia cases.

Many people with Alzheimer’s disease first notice when they begin to experience forgetfulness severe enough to affect their work, hobbies or social life. 

Additional common symptoms include:

  • Difficulty multitasking
  • Mood changes
  • Becoming disorientated or lost in familiar places
  • Repeating things
  • Trouble with expressing and organising thoughts
  • Confusion and misplacing things

Alzheimer’s disease is a gradually progressive illness that damages nerve cells in the brain. Symptoms increase and advance over time due to the fact that more brain cells are destroyed as time goes on.

Though people can have Alzheimer’s in their 30s, 40s and 50s, the disease is by far the most common in people over the age of 65. Despite there being currently no cure, treatments are available and most effective when the disease is identified in the early stages.

Vascular dementia

Cerebrovascular disease is considered the second most common cause of dementia, often referred to as vascular dementia. 

It occurs when clots block blood flow to parts of the brain, consequently destroying brain cells. These changes can occur over time or very suddenly.

The symptoms of vascular dementia are wide ranging as it depends on the brain regions involved. The more common symptoms include:

  • Memory loss
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Confusion
  • Changes to mood, personality or behaviour
  • Difficulty walking and keeping balance

It’s a commonality for people to have both Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia at the same time. Research states that up to 45 percent of people with dementia have signs of both Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia.

Dementia with Lewy bodies 

Dementia with Lewy bodies (also known as DLB or  Lewy body dementia) is when abnormal deposits of proteins called ‘Lewy bodies’ form inside nerve cells in the brain. Lewy bodies have been found in different brain disorders, including DLB and Parkinson’s disease. 

Symptoms of Dementia with Lewy bodies include:  

  • Hallucinations  
  • Memory problems
  • Poor judgment and confusion
  • Excessive drowsiness
  • Fainting, unsteadiness and falls
  • Disturbed sleep and vivid dreams
  • Movement changes (shakiness, stiffness, lack of facial expression, problems with balance, falls)

Frontotemporal dementia 

Frontotemporal dementia (also known as FTD) is a rare disorder that dominantly affects the front and sides of the brain. It usually occurs at a younger age (45-65, although it can also affect younger or older people) and progresses faster than Alzheimer’s disease.

Symptoms often will include the following:

  • Changes in personality
  • Lack of judgement
  • Losing interest in people and things
  • Making rude or insensitive remarks
  • Making unwise decisions about finances or personal matters
  • Problems with speech and language
  • Compulsive eating, drinking of alcohol or smoking
  • Repetitive behaviours, such as foot-tapping

Seeking medical advice about dementia

If you think that you or someone you are close to is experiencing symptoms of dementia, make an appointment to see a GP. 

First of all, you may be able to rule it out. But if you are living with dementia, the earlier you are diagnosed the better, as you can improve your quality of life with early support and treatment.

An early diagnosis also gives you time to make decisions about your future care preferences, and put in place any plans that you may have.

There isn’t one single test that can diagnose dementia. A dementia diagnosis is based on the results of a series of assessments, which will be carried out by your GP or by a specialist at a memory clinic or hospital.

Read more about seeking a diagnosis of dementia.

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