Dementia is not an inevitable part of ageing. It’s caused when the brain is damaged by diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease or a series of strokes. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, but not the only one.
The specific symptoms that someone with dementia experiences will depend on the parts of the brain that are damaged and the disease that is causing the dementia.
Jo Poolman, team manager of AXA Health’s 24/7 health support line looks at what dementia is, the symptoms and how someone is diagnosed.
What is dementia?
Dementia is classed as a syndrome (a group of related symptoms) associated with an ongoing decline of brain functioning.1
Symptoms may include memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving or language. A person with dementia may also experience changes in their mood or behaviour.
These changes are often small to start with, but for someone with dementia they have become severe enough to affect daily life.
What are the symptoms of the different types of dementia?
There are many different types of dementia, however Alzheimer's is the most prominent and accounts for around 60% of diagnosed cases.2
The three most common types of dementia experienced in the UK and some of the symptoms you might experience include:
1. Alzheimer's disease
Common symptoms include:
- memory loss or impairment (commonly forgetting names of people, places and times)
- mood changes
- problems with judging distances
- problems with speech (struggling to follow a conversation or repeating themselves)
- poor concentration
- trouble with organisation or planning (difficulty in carrying out a sequence of tasks)
- problems with orientation to time place or person.3
As in all forms of dementia, this is a progressive condition, so symptoms may be mild at first but often worsen with time.
2. Vascular dementia
Vascular dementia is caused by reduced blood supply to the brain due to diseased blood vessels or a stroke, for example.
Common early symptoms of vascular dementia include:
- problems with problem solving, decision making, planning and organisation
- confusion and reduced speed of thought
- problems maintaining a concentration
- speech difficulties
- mood changes, including anger and depression.
Memory loss is not usually a main symptom in the early stages. Many people with vascular dementia are aware that their thinking and processing is impaired. This can often lead to a lot of frustration and distress on their part.4
3. Dementia with Lewy bodies
Around 5% of people with a diagnosis of dementia are recorded as having dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB), although the condition is under-diagnosed and often misidentified as Alzheimer’s disease.
Like Alzheimer’s disease, DLB can both cause problems with:
- memory loss,
- staying focused,
- and difficulties with the way the person sees things around them.
However, common symptoms of DLB also include hallucinations, problems staying fully awake, difficulties with movement and very disturbed sleep.5
Around 1 in 10 people are also diagnosed as having more than one type of dementia - or 'mixed dementia'.6