11 things you should really know about dementia

Dementia isn’t exactly high on many lists of dinnertime conversation topics. but it’s something that we, as a society really need to talk about.

This year there will be 850,000 people in the UK suffering from the disease and this figure is expected to rise to a staggering one million by 2025, according to Alzheimers Society.

elderly person

Despite the huge prevalence of the disease in the UK, there are still a long list of misconceptions that we really need to clear up. In honour of Dementia Awareness Week, we’ve put together a list of 11 things you should know about the disease.

1. Forgetfulness and dementia are two very different things.

While it’s totally healthy for people to become a little bit more forgetful as they age, a bit of memory impairment is very different to dementia. One in three people over the age of 65 people will develop dementia in their lives, but 44% will go undiagnosed – partially because it’s easy to dismiss symptoms as normal forgetfulness.

2. Alzheimers is a type of dementia, not a different disease.

Lucy Roberts from Dementia UK explains: “Dementia is a syndrome – a term that describes a group of symptoms – and Alzheimers is just one type of dementia. It’s by far the most common, accounting for 60% to 80% of cases in the UK of people over the age of 65.”

3. Dementia is about more than just memory loss.

old people in wheelchairs

(kkendall via Flickr)

While we strongly associate dementia with memory loss and forgetfulness, these are just the most common symptoms. Other symptoms can include problems with reasoning and communication, decision making, language and everyday skills like washing and dressing and more.

4. It can effect your personality too.

Lucy explains that dementia can totally change someone’s personality. “People with Fronto-temporal dementia (FTD) may experience changes in personality,” Lucy explains. “For example a person with FTD who was previously quiet and easygoing might become dis-inhibited and outspoken”. Meanwhile people who have Dementia with Lewy Bodies are likely to experience visual hallucinations or have problems with balance.

5. There are more types of dementia than you might think.

elderly person

There are more than a hundred types of dementia, each with different causes, although rarer forms only account for about 5% of cases in the UK.

6. People under 65 can develop dementia too.

It’s not just a disease for the OAPs, around 40,000 under-65s in the UK are living with dementia, with Alzheimers the most common form of dementia for younger people. Many of these people are still in work or have dependent children.

7. There are things you can do to help prevent dementia.
Lots of people think dementia is hereditary and there’s nothing you can do to stop it developing, but according to the University of Cambridge there are seven risk factors for developing the disease, and avoiding these could help prevent it. These include diabetes, mid-life hypertension, mid-life obesity, physical inactivity, depression, smoking, and low educational attainment.

Lucy says: “Avoiding these risk factors will not mean that you won’t go on to get Alzheimer’s disease, but researchers say that one in three cases worldwide is preventable by following a healthy lifestyle. A good rule of thumb is that everything that keeps your heart healthy, also keeps your brain healthy.”

8. Sadly, Sudoku isn’t going to save you from dementia.

old people in a retirement home

(8593364@N06 via Flickr)

According to Lucy, doing Sudoku and puzzles won’t make you less likely to develop the disease. “There is no research that says doing puzzles or Sudokus would improve brain health”, she says. “However, learning another language is helpful because it uses different parts of the brain and enhances cognitive function, as does plenty of social stimulation.”

9. Dementia isn’t hereditary.
The majority of dementia is not inherited, and only around 5% of Alzheimer’s cases are due to genes. There is a gene, known as chromosome 19, which is apparently linked to developing the disease, but we don’t really know enough about Alzheimer’s disease to know why this is the case.

10. Brain scans aren’t the only way to diagnose dementia.

carol voderman sudoku

Sudoku isn’t going to save us from dementia (Philip Mingo/PA)

The most common test for dementia is called the Mini Mental State Examination (MMSE), which is used by clinicians to help diagnose dementia and assess its progression and severity. The MMSE involves a series of tests on a number of abilities, including a person’s memory, attention and language.

11. Dementia care isn’t free on the NHS.
Lucy explains: “Since there is no cure for dementia, there’s very little the NHS can do to support people affected. Adult social care isn’t funded by the UK government, so professional care is covered by the person or family”. Unpaid carers of dementia sufferers save the UK economy over £11 billion a year.

11 things you should really know about dementia