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Understanding dementia

Caring for someone with dementia

Did you know there are currently 900,000 people in the UK living with dementia? One in 14 people aged over 65 and one in six people over 80 has dementia. The likelihood of developing this progressive disease increases as you get older but it can affect younger people too. Our guide can help you to learn more about dementia and how you can help those living with the condition.

What is dementia?

Dementia is a term used to describe several different degenerative disorders that trigger a gradual loss of brain function - thinking, remembering, and reasoning.

What are the different types of dementia?

Around 19 out of 20 people with dementia have one of four main types listed below:

  1. Alzheimer’s disease – this is the most common type of dementia
  2. Vascular dementia – the second most common type of dementia
  3. Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) – this is caused by Lewy body disease and it is closely related to Parkinson’s disease
  4. Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is one of the less common types of dementia. It is sometimes called Pick's disease or frontal lobe dementia

What are the symptoms and who is most likely to show these?

An estimated 850,000 people in the UK are living with dementia, as are those closest to them. If current trends continue and no action is taken, the number of people with dementia in the UK is forecast to increase to 1,000,000 by 2025 and 1,590,000 by 2040 according to Alzheimer’s Society.

For most people, symptoms can first appear in their mid-60s. Short term memory loss is well-known; however, dementia can also affect the way people think, speak, perceive things, feel, and behave. Many people remain undiagnosed because they are in denial and assume that memory loss is just part of getting old which is a big misconception.

Symptoms can include:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Problems planning and thinking things through
  • Struggling with daily tasks like following a recipe or using a bank card
  • Trouble finding the right word or keeping up with communication
  • An inability judging distances that goes beyond eyesight issues
  • Mood changes and a lack of control over emotions

What treatments and research are available?

Treatment such as Cholinesterase inhibitors and Memantine is available alongside research and development into finding a cure.

How can I help someone with dementia?

Friends and relatives often find it difficult to visit someone with dementia as conversation is challenging. Take along a game or activity, photos, or music to listen to so the focus isn’t on talking.

The temptation might be to correct absentmindedness or highlight repetition but, particularly when the disease has progressed, that can cause confusion and anxiety, so it’s usually kinder not to draw attention to this.

  • Pictures on doors at home can help people with dementia find their way, for example the toilet, bed, and TV in the front room
  • Don’t serve up boiling hot tea or coffee to someone with dementia as they could spill it and scald themselves. Instead add cold water or plenty of milk
  • Avoid lots of questions. Instead opt for a fait accompli, such as ‘I was making a drink and made you one too’
  • Link in with a local group for help and support and connect with people who are experiencing what you are
  • We have some other useful tips for people with Alzheimer’s, such as using gardening to ease the effects of dementia. Read our article on the benefits of gardening

Awareness is growing, thanks to international awareness events such as World Alzheimer's Day, but the general public might still not understand certain behaviours or outbursts. If you need to, don’t be afraid to calmly explain that your friend or family member is living with dementia.

Don’t forget to be kind to yourself; there’s no instruction manual for this.

Talk to our experts

Dementia isn’t part of the natural ageing process. If you’re worried about your memory, or about someone else, the first thing to do is make an appointment with your GP.

Our male and female GPs can discuss any concerns you have about your health. You’ll have 25 minutes with your GP, who will take the time to thoroughly discuss your health concerns. They’ll also arrange any tests, scans or follow-up appointments and discuss their costs with you.

Book your private GP appointment quickly and easily using our online booking system. To book a test, scan or examination complete our online enquiry form or contact our Private Patient Team via Livechat or on 01580 363 158.

Published on 12 May 2023