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What is dementia?

Dementia is not a disease but is a group of signs and symptoms. The five most common signs and symptoms of dementia are:

  • struggling to remember things
  • difficulty in working things out
  • difficulty picking up new skills
  • struggling to adapt to physical & sensory changes
  • difficulties with orientation

Dementia rates are increasing

Around 850,000 people in the UK have dementia. By 2025 this number is expected to rise to over one million, with a projected rise to over 2 million by 2050 (find out more from Alzheimer’s Research). So if you or someone you know is diagnosed with it, you are not alone. It mainly affects older people, both men and women, but it can be found in younger people. In the UK over 40,000 people under 65 years of age have dementia. Around two-thirds of people with dementia are women, the reason for this is unclear.

Typical early signs of dementia

There are several types of dementia of which the most common is Alzheimer’s Disease. The typical early signs of dementia are:

  • struggling to remember things - difficulty in recalling recent events
  • difficulty in working things out - finding it hard to follow conversations, remembering how to get dressed or make a cup of tea
  • difficulty picking up new skills - struggling to learn how to use a new appliance
  • struggling to adapt to physical & sensory changes - loss of confidence and difficulty with hearing aids, new glasses or walking aids
  • difficulties with orientation - problems wayfinding in familiar surroundings and coping with changes within the home environment

These symptoms occur when the brain is damaged, for example following a stroke or the onset of Alzheimer's Disease.

Everyone is different

The symptoms of dementia increase over time. It is gradual, and everyone experiences the changes at different speeds. There is no cure but there are treatments that help slow it down or help people cope with certain symptoms. And there are lots of ways of helping people live a full and happy life. These range from simple adaptations in the home to support from health and social care professionals, to financial help.

Having dementia does not automatically mean you have to go into a care home or hospital. Two-thirds of people with dementia live in the community. Being old doesn't automatically mean you will get dementia. It is just more common in the elderly. Around 80 percent of people aged over 80 are bright and alert, if occasionally forgetful.

Why does it happen?

The brain is made up of millions of brain cells which send messages to each other. These messages tell us everything we need to know to cope with everyday life: such as how to move, what we are seeing, how to speak. They also store our memories and control our emotions - such as laughing and crying.

In someone with dementia, some of these brain cells become damaged and die (in most cases, it is not yet known exactly why). As a result, their brain doesn’t work as well as it used to; simple messages do not get through. Hence they become forgetful and can become confused by their surroundings. They may not remember something that happened yesterday, or how to get dressed. They may not recognise their husband or their friends. Sometimes finding the right word might be difficult.

If any of these things happen it can be frightening and frustrating. It can make someone anxious, unhappy and even angry. The world can seem a confusing and unfriendly place.

But it doesn’t have to be like this!

Remember:

  • lots of people have dementia and live fulfilled lives
  • because it is a common condition, there’s a lot of help available
  • there are lots of simple ways of helping people adapt to their new circumstances

It isn’t necessarily dementia

Memory loss and confusion are not always a sign of dementia. These symptoms can be due to other causes such as other physical health conditions. Just a few examples are:

  • heart or kidney failure
  • chest or urinary tract infections
  • anxiety and depression
  • side-effects of medication
  • under or over active thyroid
  • dehydration
  • low blood sugar

These conditions can all be treated, so it’s very important to get a proper diagnosis from your GP.

Choose from the following services:

  • Independent Supported Living

    Our unique, small group specialist accommodation in a domestic house – the positive alternative to residential care

  • Home Support

    Helping you to continue to live at home and remain independent

  • Day Centres

    Our specialist centres in Newcastle and Hexham, offering fun and therapeutic activities and a break for carers

  • Residential Respite Care

    A home from home, with expert care in a dementia-specialist respite centre in Newcastle

  • Advice and Information

    Need advice on how to support someone with dementia? We have over 20 years’ expertise and offer free advice for people with dementia and their carers