A quick guide to dementia

Dementia is not something that just happens to everyone as they get older. It is caused by different illnesses.

What is dementia?

Our brains control almost everything we think, feel, say and do. They also store our memories for us.

There are illnesses that stop a person’s brain from working properly. When a person has one of these illnesses, they may have problems remembering, thinking and speaking. They might say or do things that seem strange to others, and find it harder to do everyday things. They may not seem like the person they used to be.

Doctors use the word dementia to describe these different problems.

Most people with dementia have Alzheimer’s disease or
vascular dementia
but there are other types too. Find out more here.


Why does it happen?

Dementia is not something that just happens to everyone as they get older. It is caused by different illnesses.

These illnesses are diseases that affect different parts of the brain, so they affect people in different ways.

At the moment we don’t know why one person may get one of these diseases while another person may not. Doctors and scientists are working hard to find out more about dementia.


How does dementia affect someone?

Most of us forget things from time to time, like where we left our keys. This does not mean we have dementia. Signs of dementia slowly get worse until they get in the way of daily life.

When people start to get dementia, you might see some of these things happen:

Forgetting recent events, names and faces.
Asking the same questions often in a short space of time.

Putting things in the wrong place.
Finding it hard to pay attention or make simple decisions.

Not being sure about the date or time of day.
Getting lost, mostly in places that are new.

Finding it hard to use the right words or understand other people’s words.
Changes in how someone feels, like becoming sad or easily upset, or losing interest in things.

As dementia gets worse, people may have trouble speaking clearly or telling you what they need or how they feel. They may find it hard to eat and drink, wash and dress themselves, and go to the toilet without help.

Find out more about how dementia can affect someone here.


Who is affected by dementia?

Dementia is very common.

Every day, almost 600 people
in the UK develop dementia.

In the UK there are
more women
with dementia than men.

People over 65 are more likely to get dementia, but it can affect younger people too.


Some people may be more likely to develop dementia than others, like those who have had a stroke, or who have:

  • diabetes
  • high blood pressure
  • high cholesterol
  • depression.


Is there a cure?

At the moment there is no cure for dementia. Once a person has dementia, they will have it for the rest of their life.

There are some medicines that can help for a while, by making day-to-day life a little easier. There may also be group activities people can take part in to help them live better with their symptoms. Your doctor can tell you more, or you can find out more information here.

Unfortunately there are no medicines that can stop these diseases so people will still continue to get worse over time.


Can I stop myself getting dementia?

There is no sure way to stop yourself getting dementia, but there are things you can do that may make it less likely that you will.

Ask your doctor to check your heart health, including blood pressure and cholesterol, and follow their advice if they are too high.
If you have diabetes, keep to your doctor’s advice.

Don’t smoke.
Eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables.

Keep your weight healthy.
Stay active and try not to spend too long sitting down.

Keep using your brain – through activities or social groups you enjoy.
Drink no more than 14 units of alcohol per week.

Find out more about reducing your risk of dementia here.

This information was updated in November 2018 and is due for review in November 2020.