What Is Dementia?

Naomi Cornelius-Reid of Amesbury Abbey Group explains that dementia is an overall term relating to diseases which affect the functioning of the brain. It is a condition that is serious enough to affect day-to-day life and is caused by abnormal changes which activate a decline in certain skills, such as thinking. Unfortunately, dementia can also affect relationships, feelings, and a person’s behaviour. 

The most common cause of dementia is known as Alzheimer’s disease, which accounts for 60-80% of cases. The second most common cause, which occurs because of microscopic bleeding and blood vessel blockage in the brain, is Vascular dementia. Other people might experience brain changes of multiple types of dementia simultaneously – this is known as mixed dementia. Some other conditions, which could be reversible, such as thyroid problems and vitamin deficiencies, can also cause symptoms of dementia. 

Many conditions of dementia are progressive, meaning that the signs appear to start slowly and gradually get worse. If you are aware of someone that is experiencing difficulties with their thinking skills, please do not ignore them. It is always worth consulting a GP, as a professional evaluation may detect a condition that is treatable. 

View Amesbury Abbey Group’s helpful guide to dementia.

Types of dementia 

There are over 200 different types of dementia, but the following types are the most common. 

Alzheimer’s disease is a condition where the brain tissue within a person has progressively fewer nerve cells and connections, and the total brain size shrinks. 

Dementia with Lewy bodies is a neurodegenerative condition linked to abnormal structures in the brain. The brain changes involve a protein called alpha-synuclein.

Parkinson’s disease, which is often considered a disorder of movement, can also lead to dementia symptoms. 

Also often characterized by specific types of uncontrolled movements, Huntington’s disease can include dementia symptoms. 

Finally, mixed dementia which refers to a diagnosis of two or three types of dementia occurring together. For instance, a person may show both Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia at the same time.

Stages of dementia 

There are seven stages of dementia, with everyone starting at stage one, where there are no symptoms of cognitive impairment and mental function is classed as normal. 

Stage two is a very mild cognitive decline, which can vary between age-related memory loss that most elderly citizens face or could be the beginning of Alzheimer’s disease. Symptoms to watch out for during stage two are things like being unable to remember the location of important objects, such as your purse or forgetting phrases you would normally repeat daily.  

Stage three will not necessarily have a major impact on a person’s day-to-day life, but it might become more noticeable to friends and family. Activities may become more of a challenge including difficulty driving and problem solving or trouble with complex tasks. Loved ones might also notice forgetfulness and verbal repetition. 

Stage four is commonly referred to as early on-set dementia (or Alzheimer’s). This is where symptoms of cognitive decline are very clear such as social withdrawal, moodiness, denial, trouble with daily routine tasks and being non-responsive. If you notice a loved one with these symptoms, they really should be seen by their GP for a professional examination. 

Stage five is when your loved one is likely to need a little extra support with daily tasks such as dressing and often will require someone to care for them, whether this is at home or in a specialist centre. Noticeable symptoms will include forgetfulness and confusion, unable to remember personal details and a reduced mental acuity and problem-solving capacity.  

Stage six, known as middle dementia or moderately severe Alzheimer’s disease, will find your loved one requiring help for activities that most of us take for granted, such as using the bathroom and eating. They may also experience increased paranoia, anxiety, difficulty with sleeping and struggle to recognise their loved ones. 

Stage seven is when your loved one is unable to care for themselves and they may lose the ability to speak or walk. This is known as late-stage dementia or severe Alzheimer’s. 

Dementia symptoms 

In its early stages, dementia can cause symptoms such as short-term memory loss, unable to cope with change, repetition, difficulty completing everyday tasks, confusion, loss of interest, reaching for the correct word, lack of sense or direction, difficulty following a storyline and changes in mood. 

What are the next steps for those suffering from dementia?

Unfortunately, it can sometimes become too much for a loved one to care for a person with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease at home, especially if they were to become aggressive, incontinent or wander. When this happens, it is important to look for a suitable long-term care facility.  

It is important that those suffering with dementia receive the correct care they need by Dementia care specialists. 

A person with dementia will need more care and support as their symptoms get worse over time. Before signing up with a residential care home or nursing home, confirm they offer specialist support for people with dementia. Many will offer bespoke dementia care packages.

It is important to remember that there are many positive aspects of moving into a specialist dementia care home including specialist 24-hour care, interaction and social activities with others knowing that your loved one is in a safe place.