If you, or a friend or relative, have been diagnosed with dementia, you may be feeling anxious or confused. You may not know what dementia is. This factsheet should help answer some of your questions. The term 'dementia' is used to describe the symptoms that occur when the brain is affected by specific diseases and conditions. These include Alzheimer's disease and sometimes as a result of a stroke. Dementia is progressive, which means the symptoms will gradually get worse. How fast dementia progresses will depend on the individual. Each person is unique and will experience dementia in their own way. Symptoms of dementia include:
• Loss of memory − for example, forgetting the way home from the shops, or being unable to remember names and places, or what happened earlier the same day • Mood changes − particularly as parts of the brain that control emotion are affected by disease. People with dementia may also feel sad, frightened or angry about what is happening to them • Communication problems − a decline in the ability to talk, read and write. In the later stages of dementia, the person affected will have problems carrying out everyday tasks, and will become increasingly dependent on other people.
What causes dementia?
There are several diseases and conditions that cause dementia. These include: • Alzheimer's disease − the most common cause of dementia. During the course of the disease the chemistry and structure of the brain changes, leading to the death of brain cells • Vascular disease − the brain relies on a network of vessels to bring it oxygen-bearing blood. If the oxygen supply to the brain fails, brain cells are likely to die and this can cause the symptoms of vascular dementia. These symptoms can occur either suddenly, following a stroke, or over time through a series of small strokes • Dementia with Lewy bodies − this form of dementia gets its name from tiny spherical structures that develop inside nerve cells. Their presence in the brain leads to the degeneration of brain tissue. Memory, concentration and language skills are affected. This form of dementia shares some characteristics with Parkinson's Disease • Fronto-temporal dementia (including Pick's disease) − in fronto-temporal dementia, damage is usually focused in the front part of the brain. At first, personality and behaviour are more affected than memory.
Rarer causes of dementia
There are many other rarer diseases that cause dementia, including progressive supranuclear palsy, Korsakoff's syndrome, Binswanger's disease, HIV and AIDS, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD). People with multiple sclerosis, motor neurone disease, Parkinson's disease and Huntington's disease may also be more likely to develop dementia.
Mild cognitive impairment
Some individuals may have difficulty remembering to do things, but a doctor may feel that the symptoms are not severe enough to warrant the diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease or another type of dementia. When this condition occurs, some doctors will use the term 'mild cognitive impairment' (MCI). Recent research has shown that a small number of individuals with MCI have an increased risk of progressing to Alzheimer's disease. However, the conversion rate from MCI to Alzheimer's is small (10-15 per cent), so a diagnosis of MCI does not always mean that the person will go on to develop Alzheimer's.
Who gets dementia?
• There are about 750,000 people in the UK with dementia • Dementia mainly affects older people. However, it can affect younger people: there are over 16,000 people in the UK under the age of 65 who have dementia • Dementia can affect men and women
• Scientists are investigating the genetic background to dementia. It does appear that in a few rare cases the diseases that cause dementia can be inherited. Some people with a particular genetic make-up have a higher risk than others of developing dementia.
Can dementia be...