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

What is dementia?

Our brains control everything we think, feel, remember and do.

There are diseases that stop a person’s brain from working properly. When a person has one of these diseases, they may have problems thinking, remembering 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.

When these problems get worse over time, doctors may use the word dementia to describe them.

Dementia is not something that just happens to everyone as they get older. It is caused by different diseases. These diseases affect different parts of the brain, so they affect people in different ways.

Who is affected by dementia?

Dementia is very common.

Did you know that almost 1 million people in the UK have dementia?

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

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

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. When someone has dementia, symptoms slowly get worse so that they get in the way of daily life.

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

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Forgetting recent events, names and faces.

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Not being sure about the date or time of day.

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Asking the same questions in a short space of time.

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Getting lost, mainly in places that are new.

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Putting things in the wrong place.

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Finding it hard to use the right words or to understand other people's words.

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Finding it hard to pay attention or make simple decisions.

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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 other people 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.

Why does it happen?

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

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

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

In most cases, we don’t know why a person may get one of these diseases while someone else may not. But we do know there are things we can do to make us less likely to develop dementia. Doctors and scientists are working hard to find out more about dementia – including its causes.

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 are no medicines that can cure dementia. Once a person has dementia, they will have it for the rest of their life. They will also continue to get worse over time.

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 about these.

Can I stop myself getting dementia?

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

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Ask your doctor to check your heart health, including blood pressure and cholesterol and follow their advice if they are too high.

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Eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables.

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If you have diabetes, keep to your doctor's advice.

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Keep using your brain - through activities or social groups you enjoy.

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Don't smoke.

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Stay active and try not to spend too long sitting down.

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Keep your weight healthy.

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Drink less than 14 units of alcohol per week.

Where can I go for help?

If you think someone you know may have dementia, encourage them to see their doctor.

The doctor will check what might be causing their problems. Sometimes, the person might be sent to a second doctor who can tell them if they have dementia. You can go with your relative or friend if they ask you to.

If the doctor says anything you’re not sure about, you can ask them to explain.

Useful contacts

The Admiral Nurses offer people with dementia and their families practical advice, support and tips. 0800 888 6678

Alzheimer’s Society provides information, help and local support groups. A translation service is available. 0333 150 3456

Alzheimer Scotland offers support services, information and advice to people in Scotland. 0808 808 3000

Getting involved in research

People with and without dementia, as well as carers, have a vital role to play in helping scientists understand more about diseases like Alzheimer's, and to test new treatments, therapies and methods of diagnosis.

You can register to find out which research studies you may be suitable to take part in via Join Dementia Research.

You can also register your interest and find out more about what might be involved in a research study by clicking the button below.

This information was updated in November 2022 and is due for review in November 2024. It was written by Alzheimer's Research UK's Information Services team with input from lay and expert reviewers. Please get in touch if you'd like a referenced copy.


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Dementia Research Infoline

Want to know more about dementia? Keen to get involved in research projects?

Contact the Dementia Research Infoline:

9am-5pm, Monday to Friday

0300 111 5 111