An estimated 850,000 people live with dementia in the UK and this figure is expected to rise over the coming years. If fact, according to Alzheimer’s Research UK, one million people will have the condition by 2025, rising to two million by 2050 – that’s an increase of 146%.
Dementia is one of the most common medical problems among older people. Statistics show that 7.1% of people over 65 have dementia, with women at at higher risk than men. Rather than a simple condition, dementia is actually a set of symptoms relating to your memory, language and understanding.
This article will focus on the symptoms of the three most common forms of dementia; Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia and dementia with Lewy Bodies. To learn more about the condition please see our in-depth guide.
This is the most well-known and common form of dementia, accounting for 62% (520,000 people) of cases. This is a physical condition which affects the brain and is named after the doctor who first described it: Alois Alzheimer. The condition affects the connections of the nerve cells in your brain, causing a build-up of proteins which form abnormal structures called ‘plaques’ and ‘tangles’. Eventually nerve cells die and brain tissue is lost.
The symptoms for Alzheimer’s progress slowly over several years and can affect people at a different rate. In fact, it is highly unlikely that two people with the condition will experience Alzheimer’s in the same way. The severity of the symptoms can also be affected by other medical conditions such as infections and a stroke.
According to the NHS, the symptoms for Alzheimer’s are divided into three main stages. The main symptom in the early stages of the condition is memory loss, which may cause you to experience any of the following:
- Misplacing items.
- Forgetting the names of places and objects.
- Forgetting recent conversations or events.
- Asking questions repetitively.
- Having problems trying to think of the right word.
- Showing poor judgement.
- Having trouble making decisions and being hesitant towards trying new things.
Alongside the memory loss you may also suffer from mood change; becoming anxious, agitated and/or confused.
As you move into the middle stage of the condition, the memory problems listed above will get worse. You may now begin to forget the names of loved ones and even fail to recognise your friends and family. New symptoms may also appear:
- Impulsive, repetitive and/or obsessive behaviour.
- Speech problems.
- Suffering from delusions or paranoia.
- Becoming more confused and disorientated.
- Frequent mood swings.
- Difficulty in performing spatial tasks.
As the condition progresses even further (later stages), all the above will get even worse and will be distressing for the person with the condition, as well as their carers, friends and family. The person affected may become suspicious of, or even violent towards those around them. Several new symptoms may also appear:
- Trouble eating and swallowing.
- Losing weight.
- Gradual loss of speech.
- Short and long-term memory problems.
- Movement problems.
At this stage of the condition, the person affected may need full-time assistance with eating, moving and personal care.
Around 150,000 people (17% of all cases) are affected by vascular dementia, which is caused by a reduced flow of blood to the brain. The symptoms for this form of dementia can begin suddenly or come on slowly over time. Early symptoms of the conditions include:
- Difficulty planning things.
- Trouble understanding.
- Concentration difficulty.
- Mood changes.
- Slowness of thought.
- Mild problems with memory and language.
At this stage of the condition the symptoms may not be too noticeable and can even be confused for other conditions such as depression. However, they do indicate that some damage has occurred to the brain and therefore treatment is needed.
As the condition progresses the symptoms will get worse; either slowly or is sudden steps every few months or years. Depending on the part of the brain affected, later symptoms include:
- Feelings of being disorientated and confused.
- Memory loss.
- Finding it difficult to concentrate.
- Difficulty finding the right words.
- Severe personality changes.
- Mood swings.
- Depression and the symptoms that come with it.
- Difficulty walking and keeping balance.
Dementia of Lewy Bodies
This form of dementia accounts for 10-15% of all cases – that’s 100,000 people. It shares many symptoms with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, with many people confusing it for the former. The condition’s symptoms often come on gradually and slowly get worse over several years. The main symptoms are:
- Memory problems.
- Difficulty with your visual perception.
- Judgement problems.
- Trouble understanding things.
- Increase in thinking speed.
- Language problems.
The issues listed above may be constant but do typically come and go over periods of time. There are also symptoms which help distinguish this form of dementia from the others. They are:
- Walking Problems – Slow movement, stiff limbs, tremors and shuffling.
- Hallucinating – Seeing or hearing things which aren’t there.
- Unexpected swings between alertness and confused or sleepiness.
- Swallowing difficulty.
- Disturbed sleep.
Everyday activities may also become increasingly difficult, and other health problems may arise. It’s highly-likely that the personal affected will need daily care and support.
Learn more about Dementia
If you’re looking to learn more about dementia as a whole, we have an in-depth guide to the condition on our blog. The post will explain what the condition is, the diagnosis process, and the treatment available. You’ll also find some useful tips on how to cope with the condition daily.
We also have a guide to the 20 most common medical conditions which affect older people, if you or a loved one has any other health problems.
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