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Dementia Information

Dementia describes a collection of symptoms that are caused by disorders affecting the brain. It is not one specific disease.

Some of the symptoms can include the gradual loss of memory, communication skills and the ability to think and reason clearly.

In dementia brain cells stop working properly. This happens inside specific areas of the brain, which can affect how you think, remember and communicate.

Diseases that can cause dementia

Alzheimer’s disease is probably the best-known cause of dementia, accounting for about two-thirds of causes in the elderly. Scientists know that during Alzheimer’s two abnormal proteins build in the brain. They form clumps called either ‘plaques’ or ‘tangles’. These plaques and tangles interfere with how brain cells work and communicate with each other. The plaques are usually first seen in the area of the brain that makes new memories.

Some of the symptoms of early Alzheimer’s include:

  • Regularly forgetting recent events, names and faces
  • Regularly misplacing items or putting them in odd places
  • Confusion about the time of day
  • Disorientation, especially away from your normal surroundings
  • Getting lost
  • Problems finding the right words
  • Mood or behaviour problems such as apathy, irritability or losing confidence

Vascular dementia is caused by the blood flow to the brain being reduced. Blood carries essential oxygen and nourishment to the brain and without it brain cells die. The network of blood vessels that carry blood around the body is called the ‘vascular system’.

Some of the symptoms of vascular dementia can include:

  • Becoming slower in thinking
  • Disorientation, especially away from your normal surroundings
  • Difficulty in finding words or using inappropriate words
  • Memory problems like regularly misplacing items or putting them in odd places
  • Becoming more emotional
  • Difficulty walking or change in the way a person walks

Dementia with Lewy bodies is caused by small, round, clumps of protein that build up inside the nerve cells in the brain. These are named Lewy bodies after Dr Frederich Lewy, who first identified them.

The protein clumps damage the way the nerve cells work and communicate with each other. The nerve cells affected by Lewy bodies control thinking and movement.

Some of the symptoms of dementia with Lewy bodies can include:

  • Variation in attention, alertness and confusion. These fluctuations can be very noticeable from hour to hour or day to day
  • Visual hallucinations. These can often involve seeing people and animals that aren’t really there.
  • Parkinson’s-type symptoms, like slowing or difficulty walking, stiffness in the limbs and sometimes tremor.
  • Movements during sleep and vivid dreams
  • Memory loss and disorientation
  • Fainting and falls

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is caused by a variety of abnormal proteins building up in the brain. The nerve cells affected are in the areas of the brain called the frontal and temporal lobes. The frontal lobes are involved in regulating our personality, emotions and behaviour, as well as reasoning, planning and decision-making. The temporal lobes are involved in the understanding and production of language.

Symptoms can include:

  • Personality changes, such as loss of inhibition, rudeness, apathy, impatience or inappropriate behaviour, of which the person is often unaware.
  • Loss of emotional warmth and empathy for others. The person may seem selfish and unfeeling.
  • Decline in language abilities – including difficulty getting words out or problems with understanding less common words and people’s names.
  • Overeating or changes in dietary preference, particularly cravings for sweet food.
  • Day-to-day memory remains intact in the early stages, but the decline in ability to communicate may give the impression of memory problems

Does dementia run in the family?

The simple answer is most of the time, NO. If you have a parent or grandparent with dementia over the age of 65 then your risk of developing dementia is only marginally higher than someone with no family history of the condition.

If you have a close relative (parent or sibling) who has dementia under the age of 65, then it’s possible that the disease could be an inherited form of dementia. Certain forms of early-onset Alzheimer’s and frontotemporal dementia can run in families and often start in the 30’s, 40’s or 50’s. These types of dementia are very rare.

This information has been taken with permission from Alzheimer’s Research UK.

For general dementia information www.alzheimersresearchuk.org/dementia-information/ From there you can progress to more specific areas.

For copies of the PDF information files please visit www.alzheimersresearchuk.org/resources-dementia/

Brain Health