THE FACTS ABOUT DEMENTIA
What is dementia?
Dementia is a number of different diseases. The term is used for conditions that can affect the brain leading to a range of symptoms, in particular problems
with memory, thinking and problem solving.
How many people have dementia in the UK?
There are 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK, with that number predicted to rise to over 1.1 million in the next decade.
Early onset dementia refers to patients aged under 65 at diagnosis. In the UK approximately 42,000 people aged under 65 have dementia.
In the population aged over 65 years, 7.1% (1 in 14) have dementia, the number rising with age such that aged 65-69, approximately 1.7% have dementia,
compared to 20% of those aged 85-89.
What are the symptoms of dementia?
Although memory loss is a common symptom of dementia, memory loss on its own does not mean a person has dementia.
Other symptoms include difficulties with problem solving, language and emotional control as well as personality changes and behavioural problems.
What types of dementia are there?
There are many different types of dementia, although some are far more common than others. Some examples are:
- Alzheimer’s disease (AD)
- Vascular dementia
- Dementia with Lewy bodies
- Frontotemporal dementia
- Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)
- Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD)
What risk factors are there for dementia?
In most cases, it is not possible to identify why someone has developed dementia. However, a small number of factors have been identified that can influence a person’s risk of developing dementia.
- Age is the strongest risk factor for dementia. While an unusual diagnosis in younger people, around 1 in 50 of those aged 65 to 70 have some form of dementia, with that number rising to 1 in 5 in people aged over 80
- Gender can influence risk of dementia, with women slightly more likely to develop dementia than men
- Genetic studies have identified a small number of genes that can alter a person’s risk of developing dementia. One example is the apolipoprotein E (APOE) gene, which can alter a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia
- Medical problems such as heart disease and high blood pressure can increase risk of developing dementia, in particular vascular dementia
Dementia risk is also increased in some other conditions, including Down’s syndrome, chronic kidney disease and multiple sclerosis
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI; head injury) is recognised as the strongest environmental risk factor for dementia. In particular, a form of dementia called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is increasingly recognised in people exposed to repetitive TBI, including retired boxers, footballers and rugby players
- Lifestyle factors including diet, exercise, smoking and alcohol are all recognised to influence risk of dementia, particularly through their effects to increase risk
of heart and vascular disease. A healthy diet, regular exercise, not-smoking and alcohol in moderation are accepted as ways to limit dementia risk
How is dementia diagnosed?
Diagnosing someone with dementia can be very difficult as early in the disease the symptoms can be very subtle and can also be symptoms of lots of other more common conditions. Often family members might notice symptoms before the patient does, such as a change in personality or forgetfulness, which can be very helpful to doctors trying to make a diagnosis. There is no single, simple diagnostic test for dementia, and often making a diagnosis of dementia can take time and several visits to a GP or hospital and a wide range of different tests before the diagnosis can be made.
Numerous different investigations can help in making the diagnosis of dementia, and ruling out other conditions that can mimic dementia.
These can include memory tests and tests of brain function, physical examination, blood tests and specialist brain scans such as CT or MRI scans.
What is the prognosis for someone with dementia?
Although there are many different types of dementia, unfortunately all types result in a progressive damage to the brain. As such, over time, a person’s ability to care for themselves will be affected as they develop increasing problems with memory, communication and thinking.