11 things you need to know about dementia

1. Dementia is not a disease itself

The word ‘dementia’ is an umbrella term for symptoms such as memory loss, confusion and personality change.

Dementia is caused by diseases of the brain. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common but other causes include vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies and frontotemporal dementia.

2. Dementia is not an inevitable part of ageing

It’s true that most people with dementia are over 65 and the likelihood of developing dementia rises with age. However, this doesn’t mean that you will definitely develop dementia as you get older.

In the UK over 40,000 people under 65 have dementia.

3. Dementia is more than just memory loss

Most people associate dementia with memory loss, but the condition affects people in a wide variety of ways.

Symptoms can include:

  • changes in behaviour
  • confusion and disorientation
  • delusions and hallucinations
  • difficulty communicating
  • problems judging speeds and distances
  • problems with balance and movement.

Everyone’s experience of dementia symptoms is different.

4. Diagnosing dementia is really important

Diagnosing dementia, and which type of dementia someone has, is important. It ensures people can get the right support and treatments, plan for the future, and develop strategies to live well with dementia.

This may include anything from taking up new hobbies, attending a support group or taking part in research.

5. Dementia is the leading cause of death in the UK

Dementia is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the UK. Yet just half (51%) of the public recognise that dementia can cause death.

Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias now account for more than 12% of all deaths.

6. You can reduce your risk of dementia

Research suggests that up to a third of dementia cases could be linked to risk factors that we can control.

However, only a third (34%) of people think it’s possible to reduce their risk of developing dementia. This compares to 81% who think it’s possible to reduce their risk of developing diabetes.

7. Dementia isn’t just an issue in developed countries

It’s a common myth that dementia is only a problem in the western world. However, it is a global issue.

Over the next 20 years, the largest increases in dementia incidence are expected in areas like China, India and Sub-Saharan Africa. Dementia is a truly global health issue, affecting 50 million people worldwide today.

8. The number of new dementia cases in the UK is falling

The incidence rate of dementia in Europe and North America has declined by 15% per decade for the past 30 years. Incidence is the number of new cases by age group.

Research suggests this reduction has been driven by improved cardiovascular health in men and reductions in population smoking habits.

9. But prevalence of dementia is still on the rise

The overall number of people developing dementia (prevalence) is increasing.

As more people live longer life spans, the number of people with dementia is rising. Through improved public awareness and reduced social stigma, more people are seeking help when symptoms of dementia appear.

10. Investment in dementia research is still low

Investment in dementia research remains low compared to other major health conditions.

Alzheimer’s Research UK is committed to increasing our investment in dementia research every year. We hope to one day achieve a world free from the fear, harm and heartbreak of dementia.

We need government to increase its support of dementia research as well.

In our action plan, we call on government to invest 1% of the annual cost of dementia in research each year. This increased investment can help bring about life-changing treatments and improve the lives of people with dementia.

11. You can help

We need willing volunteers to take part in vital dementia research studies. Without volunteers, researchers cannot effectively test new ways to diagnose, prevent and treat dementia.

Join dementia research allows people with and without dementia to register their interest in taking part.

If you or someone you know might be willing to help, you can sign up online by visiting www.joindementiaresearch.nihr.ac.uk

This information was updated in May 2019 and is due for review in May 2020. It does not replace any advice that doctors, pharmacists or nurses may give you. Please contact us if you would like a version with references.