What is dementia?21st July 2008
Dementia is the progressive loss of mental abilities due to damage or disease in the brain beyond what might be expected from normal aging. Dementia usually affects older people and becomes more common with age. There are about 700,000 people in the UK with dementia. Dementia mainly affects older people, both men and women. However, it can affect younger people: there are 15,000 people in the UK under the age of 65 who have dementia.
There are several diseases and conditions that cause dementia. These include:
- Alzheimer's disease - The most common cause of dementia. It damages individual brain cells one by one, so that the brain cannot work as well as it used to.
- Vascular disease - There are problems with the blood supply to brain cells. These symptoms can occur either suddenly, following a stroke, or over time through a series of small strokes.
- Dementia with Lewy bodies - Tiny spherical structures develop inside nerve cells. Their presence in the brain leads to the degeneration of brain tissue. Memory, concentration and language skills are affected.
- Fronto-temporal dementia (including Pick's disease).
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 names of family members, repeating the same question again, 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. Someone who was active and energetic may become listless. These changes can be particularly distressing to relatives and friends as they lose the person they knew.
- 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.
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