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What is dementia?

The word 'dementia' covers a range of diseases or disorders affecting the brain. It comes in different forms, the commonest being Alzheimer's disease and vascular disease.

Symptoms include loss of memory, confusion, and changes in personality, mood and behaviour. Experiencing these symptoms can also cause people with dementia to be afraid, anxious, depressed, frustrated or angry.

The ability of people with dementia to look after themselves can become increasingly affected, and they can become increasingly unsafe when by themselves as their ability to make everyday decisions becomes affected.

Dementia usually affects older people and becomes more common with age, although it can develop in younger people. It is important to remember that developing dementia is not a normal part of growing old and that only a minority of older people are affected. At the same more people are now affected by dementia than before because we are living longer.

It is also important to remember that whilst you may feel you are having problems with your memory or other age-related issues, this does not necessarily mean that you are getting dementia. Forgetting the occasional name or face is normal.

There are different types of dementia with some more common than others, as explained below:

Description

Is a disease that destroys memory and other important mental functions.

Signs & Symptoms

  • Forgetfulness
  • Mood changes
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Obsessive/impulsive behaviour
  • Delusions
  • Problems with speech/language
  • Weight loss
  • Incontinence

Other health related  issues

Depression

Description

Affects nerve cells in the brain, causing mental, physical, and sensory disturbances such as dementia and seizures.

Signs & Symptoms 

  • Loss of physical coordination
  • Muscle twitches and spasms
  • Incontinence
  • Blindness
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Loss of speech
  • Paranoia

Other health related  issues

Insomnia, depression, anxiety

Description

Type of dementia accompanied by changes in behaviour, cognition and movement; and is rare in people under the age of 65

Signs & Symptoms 

  • Changes in thinking/reasoning
  • Confusion
  • Balance problems/rigid muscles
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Significant memory loss

Other health related  issues

Sleep disorders, hallucinations

Description

Is an umbrella term for a diverse group of uncommon disorders that primarily affect the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain — the areas generally associated with personality, behaviour and language

Signs & Symptoms 

  • Apathy
  • Change in personality/mood
  • Lack of inhibition or lack of social tact
  • Obsessive/repetitive behaviour

Other health related  issues

Depression

Description

Is a brain disorder that causes uncontrolled movements, emotional problems, and loss of thinking ability; and usually appears in individuals aged in their 30s or 40s.

Signs & Symptoms 

  • Involuntary jerking/writhing movements
  • Muscle problems
  • Slow eye movements
  • Impaired gait, posture, balance
  • Difficultly speaking and swallowing
  • Lack of impulse control
  • Difficulty learning new information
  • Fatigue

Other health related  issues

Depression, insomnia

Description

Is characterised by symptoms and abnormalities of more than one type of dementia. Usually a combination of Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia

Signs & Symptoms 

  • Problems with memory/language
  • Mood/behavioural changes
  • Difficulty planning & understanding
  • Slowness of thought

Description

Occurs when excess fluid accumulates in the brain, but without causing pressure to build up in the brain tissue. It is a neurological disorder than can cause dementia. Primarily affects those in their 60s or 70s.

Signs & Symptoms 

  • Problems with thinking and reasoning
  • Difficulty walking
  • Incontinence
  • Apathy
  • Mood/behavioural changes

Description

Is an impairment in thinking and reasoning that eventually affects many people with Parkinson's disease.

Signs & Symptoms 

  • Changes in memory, concentration, judgement
  • Trouble interpreting visual information
  • Muffled speech
  • Delusions
  • Irritability/anxiety

Other health related  issues

Depression, hallucinations, sleep disturbances

Description

A rare disorder of the brain and nervous system that results in gradually declining vision.

Signs & Symptoms 

  • Difficulty reading
  • Decline in cognition
  • Problems judging distances
  • Unable to recognise objects/familiar faces
  • Memory loss

A neurological syndrome in which language capabilities become slowly and progressively impaired.

Signs & Symptoms 

  • Difficulty comprehending spoken/written language
  • Problems naming objects
  • Hesitant and halting in speech

Description

A general term describing problems with reasoning, planning, judgment, memory and other thought processes caused by brain damage from impaired blood flow to the brain.

Signs & Symptoms 

  • Trouble paying attention and concentrating
  • Reduced ability to organise thoughts
  • Confusion
  • Memory loss
  • Unsteady gait
  • Incontinence
  • Problems organising thoughts

Other health related  issues

High blood pressure, high cholesterol, stroke, diabetes,

Description

This is due to excessive drinking over a period of years. Although alcohol is not the cause, the nutritional deficiency means that the brain cannot function.

Signs & Symptoms 

  • Disorientation
  • Confusion
  • Involuntary jerky eye movements
  • Paralysis of the muscles that move the eye
  • Poor planning and organisational skills
  • Poor balance
  • Problems with impulsivity
  • Problems with attention and slower reasoning
  • Lack of sensitivity to the feelings of other people
  • Behaviour which is socially inappropriate

Other health related  issues

Chronic deficiency of vitamin B1, or Thiamine

Support for people with dementia

If you are concerned that you or someone you know are developing memory problems, or are feeling more confused, then go to our Worried about your memory? page for advice on what to do.

Looking after someone with dementia

If you look after a friend or family member with dementia, please visit Looking after someone for more information on support available to you.

As a carer, you may be entitled to support from the council to help you in your role. Please visit ‘Requesting a Carer’s Assessment’ to find out more.

The Admiral Nurses
Provides one-to-one support, expert guidance and practical solutions.
Tel: 0800 888 6678

Home Instead Senior Care
Provides home care services to individuals. Such as: companionship personal care and home help services
Tel: 0203 701 2862

The Good Care Group
Provides a 24 hour, 7 days a week live-in care service.
Tel: 0808 2785 948

Care to be different
Specialist online information resource all about obtaining NHS Healthcare funding

Pathways through dementia
Provides free, accurate legal and financial information to support people living with dementia.
Tel: 0203 405 5940

Westminster Older Adults Community Mental Health Team
The service specialises in the care of older adults and frailty, it makes referrals on the basis of the needs of the individual and not age.
Tel: 0207 854 4162

Other information and advice

Please see the Useful Contact information page for organisations and services that support people with experience of dementia.