There is much confusion about dementia and people have many questions including:
- What is dementia?
- What is the cause?
- What are the types of dementia?
- What are the signs of dementia – is memory loss the only symptom?
- What is the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia?
This section aims to answer some of those questions with a simple breakdown of the meaning of the word dementia, the symptoms and the diseases that cause it.
What is dementia?
Dementia is not a disease in itself. The word dementia is used to describe a group of symptoms including problems with:
- Memory loss.
- Communication & language.
- Planning & problem-solving.
- Ability to focus.
- Reasoning & judgement.
- Visual perception.
- A decline in judgement and understanding.
- Mood changes.
For a person to be diagnosed with dementia, these symptoms must have become severe enough to affect daily life. As people become older they experience some cognitive changes known as ‘normal age-related cognitive decline’, however, these changes are barely noticeable. Some people experience greater changes which are noticeable to themselves and others but do not have a significant impact on their daily lives, this is known as ‘mild cognitive impairment.’
What is the cause?
There are many diseases which cause the symptoms of dementia and each type has a different cause and affects different parts of the brain. This means that in the earlier stages, the symptoms a person experiences will depend on the type they have.
Although the symptoms are often different in the early stages they become more similar in the later stages. This is because most types are progressive, which means that the structure and chemistry of the brain become increasingly damaged over time, affecting more areas in the brain. The person’s ability to remember, understand, communicate and reason gradually declines.
Although most types are caused by progressive diseases i.e. they are irreversible and will get worse over time, the symptoms of dementia can also be caused by reversible conditions which don’t inevitably get worse over time and where recovery is possible, such as a B12 deficiency or brain tumour.
What are the types of dementia?
There are a number of diseases which cause dementia. Below are some of the different types of dementia, including:
- Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia.
- Vascular dementia.
- Mixed dementia.
- Dementia with Lewy bodies.
- Frontotemporal dementia.
- Many other rarer forms of dementia.
What are the signs of dementia – is memory loss the only symptom?
The earlier symptoms will depend on the type of dementia a person has. For example, memory loss is one of the primary symptoms in certain types, such as Alzheimer’s disease. However, in other types, such as dementia with Lewy bodies, day to day memory usually remains fairly intact in the earlier stages of the disease.
Is Alzheimer’s and dementia the same?
Alzheimer’s is one type of disease which causes the symptoms of dementia but there are many others. So one person’s dementia symptoms may be caused by Alzheimer’s but another person’s dementia symptoms may be caused by another disease such as dementia with Lewy bodies.