Dementia affects thousands of people in the UK. In general, the word 'dementia' refers to a range of symptoms relating to memory, language and understanding. According to current statistics, dementia currently affects around 850,000 people in the UK. But are you aware of the different types of dementia? Most people have heard of Alzheimer's disease, which is the most common form of dementia. However, there are several other types to be aware of too.
In today's post, we'll look at the different types of dementia, including their symptoms and treatments.
This is the most common type of dementia, with an estimated 500,000 people affected in the UK. Alzheimer's disease is most common in people over 65. It affects slightly more women than men.
Your chances of an Alzheimer's diagnosis increase as you get older, with the condition affecting around 1 in 14 people over the age of 65. This goes up to 1 in every 6 people over the age of 80.
What is the Difference Between Dementia and Alzheimer's?
Lots of people use these two words interchangeably, but dementia and Alzheimer's aren't quite the same. Dementia is the name for a group of symptoms including memory loss, difficulty with speech and communication, and issues with visual perception. Think of it as an umbrella term; there are several different kinds of dementia. Alzheimer's disease is one form of dementia. In other words, Alzheimer's is a specific brain disease that causes dementia symptoms.
Alzheimer's disease is a progressive medical condition. Therefore, symptoms develop gradually and become more severe as time goes by. Commonly, the first sign of the condition is minor memory problems. For example: forgetting recent conversations or the names of places and objects. You may struggle to remember new information. This is because the disease usually affects the parts of the brain that deal with learning first.
Over a period of weeks and months, your memory may worsen and other symptoms may develop, such as:
- Speech and language problems.
- Personality changes.
- Confusion, disorientation and getting lost in familiar places.
- Low moods or anxiety.
- Hallucinations and delusions.
Due to the slow progression of Alzheimer's disease, it can be hard to notice that something is wrong. This is especially the case in older people; many feel that memory problems are just a part of getting older.
For more information on Alzheimer's symptoms, see our guide to the symptoms of dementia.
An early diagnosis gives you the best chance to prepare for your future, including any treatments and support. Therefore, if you're worried about your memory or you've experienced any of the symptoms we've discussed, you should make an appointment with your GP.
No single test can diagnose Alzheimer's, but your doctor will ask several questions about your symptoms. They may also do some tests to rule out any other medical conditions.
A doctor may refer you to a specialist memory assessment service, where professionals from multiple disciplines can help the diagnosis. A common test at this stage is the mini mental state examination. The NHS explains:
"One widely used test is the mini mental state examination (MMSE). This involves being asked to carry out activities such as memorising a short list of objects correctly and identifying the current day of the week, month and year. Different memory clinics may also use other, longer tests. The MMSE isn't used to diagnose Alzheimer's disease, but it's useful to initially assess areas of difficulty that a person with the condition may have."
Sadly, there is no cure for Alzheimer's disease. However, there are treatments that can slow its progress and relieve symptoms. People in the early to mid-stages of Alzheimer's can take a group of drugs called acetylcholinesterase inhibitors (donepezil, galantamine, and rivastigmine). Only specialists like psychiatrists, neurologists, and geriatricians can prescribe these medications.
Anybody with Alzheimer's disease will eventually need plenty of support to live safely at home. An occupational therapist can help you identify problems and risks in your everyday life, in order to find the right solutions. You may wish to install a personal alarm system to give you and your loved ones peace of mind. Having a personal alarm can also help you to stay independent in your own home for as long as possible.
Psychological treatments, such as cognitive stimulation, can improve and maintain your memory, problem-solving skills, and language ability.
This type of dementia accounts for around 20% of diagnoses, roughly 150,000 people. Vascular dementia is caused by reduced blood flow to your brain and is often the result of a stroke or series of mini-strokes. It is most common in those aged over 65.
Vascular dementia can either start suddenly or appear slowly over time. Look out for the following symptoms:
- Problems with concentration.
- Personality and behavioural changes.
- Difficulty with planning and understanding.
- Slowness of thought.
- Feeling disorientated and confused.
- Difficulty balancing and walking.
- Memory and language problems.
In many cases, those with vascular dementia will also have Alzheimer's disease.
For more information on vascular dementia symptoms, see our guide to the symptoms of dementia.
Diagnosis & Treatment
If you think you are showing early symptoms of vascular dementia you should see your doctor. An early diagnosis could help to slow down the condition and limit its effects.
Before a diagnosis, you will have a series of assessments. This will include an assessment of your symptoms, full medical history (including questions about conditions linked to vascular dementia, such as strokes and high blood pressure), an assessment of your mental abilities and a brain scan.
Currently, there is no cure for vascular dementia. However, treatment can sometimes slow down its progress and limit the damage to brain cells. There are also plenty of lifestyle changes that can help you in the fight against several types of dementia, such as:
- Exercising and keeping active.
- Stopping smoking.
- Cutting down on alcohol.
- Losing weight.
- Eating healthily.
Medications to treat hypertension, lower cholesterol, and to prevent blood clots may also be helpful. Just as with Alzheimer's disease, support and therapy are key to helping make your everyday life easier. Speech and language therapy, physiotherapy and occupational therapy can all make a huge difference. Installing a personal alarm system can provide reassurance - in the event of an accident or medical emergency, the user can call for help with just the touch of a button. There are also automatic fall detectors for those who may not remember or be able to press their alarm button.
Dementia with Lewy Bodies
This is a slightly rarer form of dementia, affecting more than 100,000 people in the UK. Dementia with Lewy bodies represents around 15% of all dementia cases. Like with most types of dementia, this condition is common in those aged 65 and over.
The Alzheimer's Society gives the following definition of Lewy bodies:
"Lewy bodies are tiny deposits of a protein (alpha-synuclein) that appear in nerve cells in the brain. Researchers don't have a full understanding of why Lewy bodies appear, or exactly how they contribute to dementia."
Dementia with Lewy bodies will typically cause the same symptoms as other types of dementia. However, there are a few specific symptoms that can distinguish it from other conditions:
- Slow movement, stiff limbs, tremors and shuffling when walking - just like with Parkinson's disease.
- Marked swings between alertness and confusion or sleepiness.
- Disturbed sleep.
- Difficulty swallowing.
If you think you're experiencing any of these symptoms, you should make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible.
For more information on Lewy body dementia symptoms, see our guide to the symptoms of dementia.
Diagnosis & Treatment
As there is no single test to diagnose dementia with Lewy bodies, your doctor will need to assess your symptoms and your mental ability. You will also have blood tests to rule out other medical conditions with similar symptoms.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for dementia with Lewy bodies, nor any treatments that will slow the condition down. However, there are treatments that can control and relieve some symptoms for several years.
Other medication will also be available to help with any movement problems, depression, disturbed sleep, or challenging behaviour changes. Other common dementia therapies will also be available, such as occupational therapy.
People with Lewy body dementia may be more prone to falls and accidents. We would strongly recommend having a Fall Detector alarm system in place to give the user and their family maximum peace of mind.
This is one of the rarer types of dementia. Frontotemporal dementia makes up around 5% of dementia cases in the UK. It commonly affects the front and sides of your brain (frontal and temporal lobes) and can lead to problems with behaviour and language. Unlike other types of dementia, frontotemporal dementia usually affects slightly younger people, with most people receiving a diagnosis between 45 and 65.
The frontal lobes of the brain are responsible for behaviour, problem-solving, planning, and the control of your emotions. The left frontal lobe also controls speech. The temporal lobes have several different roles. The left lobe deals with the meaning of words and names of objects, while the right temporal lobe helps you recognise faces and familiar objects.
The Alzheimer's Society explains the causes of Frontotemporal dementia:
"Frontotemporal dementia occurs when nerve cells in the frontal and/or temporal lobes of the brain die, and the pathways that connect the lobes change. Some of the chemical messengers that transmit signals between nerve cells are also lost. Over time, as more and more nerve cells die, the brain tissue in the frontal and temporal lobes shrinks."
The symptoms of frontotemporal dementia include:
- Language and speech problems.
- Personality and behaviour changes.
- Problems with mental abilities.
- Memory problems.
- Slow or stiff movement.
- Difficulty swallowing.
Acting impulsively or inappropriately, sometimes appearing selfish or unsympathetic, can be a symptom of this kind of dementia. It is also common for those affected to neglect their personal hygiene and have a lack of motivation.
For more information on frontotemporal dementia symptoms, see our guide to the symptoms of dementia.
Diagnosis & Treatment
To diagnose frontotemporal dementia, doctors will assess your symptoms and mental abilities, as well as carrying out blood tests and other assessments. However, there is one test that is different: the lumbar puncture. This involves testing spinal fluid to rule out Alzheimer's disease as the cause of your symptoms.
Currently, there is no cure for this type of dementia, nor any treatments that will slow the condition down. However, there are treatments that can help to control your symptoms, such as:
- Occupational therapy.
- Speech and language therapy.
- Support groups.
To control the loss of inhibitions, a doctor might prescribe antidepressants known as SSRIs.
Other Types of Dementia
- Young-onset Dementia - a term for dementia in those under the age of 65. An estimated 42,000 people are believed to have young-onset dementia.
- Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease - a rare but fatal condition that affects your brain.
People with dementia are eligible for VAT Exemption when they order a personal alarm system from Lifeline24. This means that you will not have to pay any VAT on your Lifeline alarm if you have dementia yourself or are buying an alarm on behalf of someone else with the condition.
To find out more read our guide to VAT Exemption here.
Personal Alarm Information
A Lifeline24 alarm is a great resource for somebody with dementia. Our life-saving personal alarm service helps elderly and disabled people remain independent and continue living in their own homes. With a Lifeline alarm, the user can call for help whenever they need it with just the touch of a button. For additional peace of mind, purchase a fall detector alarm. This will activate automatically if the user experience a fall.
For more information about the personal alarm service, please get in touch with our friendly team on 0800 999 0400. Alternatively, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or fill in our Contact Us form and we will get back to you as soon as possible.
You can order your new Lifeline alarm online today.
Editor's Note: This article was updated on 20th June 2022 to reflect current information.
Dementia is one of the most common medical conditions among older people. An estimated 850,000 people live with dementia in the UK. What's more, this figure is expected to rise over the coming years. In 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%. We have already published a detailed guide to the most common types of dementia. Today, we'll be focusing especially on dementia symptoms. In particular, we'll discuss the warning signs of the four most common forms of dementia.
Dementia Symptoms: Alzheimer's Disease
Alzheimer's disease is the most well-known and common form of dementia, accounting for two thirds of all dementia cases in the UK. This adds up to more than 500,000 people. Alzheimer's is a physical condition which affects the brain. It takes its name from the doctor who first described it: Alois Alzheimer. The condition affects the connections of the nerve cells in your brain. As a result, proteins build up and form abnormal structures called ‘plaques’ and ‘tangles’. Eventually, nerve cells die, leading to a loss of brain tissue.
The symptoms of Alzheimer's progress slowly and affect people at different rates. In fact, it is highly unlikely that any two people with Alzheimer's will experience the condition in the same way. Furthermore, the severity of the symptoms can also be affected by other medical conditions such as infections and a stroke.
Perhaps the most well-known of all dementia symptoms is memory loss. This is the main symptom of early-stage Alzheimer's. In time, memory loss can have any of the following results:
- Misplacing items
- Forgetting the names of places and objects
- Forgetting recent conversations or events
- Asking questions repetitively
- Struggling to think of the right word
- Poor judgement
- Having trouble making decisions and being hesitant to try new things
Alongside the memory loss, you may also suffer from mood swings, becoming anxious, agitated and/or confused.
As you move into the middle stage of the condition, the initial memory problems tend to get worse. Lots of people begin to forget the names and faces of their loved ones. New symptoms may appear too:
- 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
Because Alzheimer's disease is a progressive condition, dementia symptoms will worsen as time goes by. In the later stages, this can be distressing for people with the condition as well as their loved ones. The person affected may become suspicious of those around them, or may even display violent behaviour. Several new dementia symptoms can also appear. These include:
- Trouble eating and swallowing
- Losing weight
- Gradual loss of speech
- Short and long-term memory problems
- Movement problems
At this stage of Alzheimer's disease, people generally need full-time assistance with eating, moving and personal care.
Dementia Symptoms: Vascular Dementia
Next, let's discuss the second most common form of dementia. Vascular dementia affects around 150,000 people (17% of all cases). This condition is caused by a reduced flow of blood to the brain. Dementia symptoms in vascular cases can begin suddenly or appear slowly over time. Early symptoms of the condition include:
- Difficulty planning things
- Trouble understanding
- Concentration difficulty
- Mood changes
- Slowness of thought
- Mild problems with memory and language
At first, symptoms may not be obvious. They can even be confused for other conditions like depression. In any case, if you experience any of the symptoms above, you should contact your doctor.
As dementia progresses, symptoms get worse. This either happens gradually or in sudden steps every few months or years. Depending on the part of the brain affected, later symptoms include:
- Feelings of confusion/disorientation
- Memory loss
- Finding it difficult to concentrate
- Difficulty finding the right words
- Severe personality changes
- Mood swings
- Depression and related symptoms
- Difficulty walking and keeping balance
Dementia Symptoms: Dementia with Lewy Bodies
All in all, dementia with Lewy bodies (or DLB) accounts for 10-15% of all cases - that's 100,000 people. It shares many symptoms with Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. In fact, many people confuse it with Parkinson's disease. The symptoms of DLB 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
- Language problems
The issues listed above may be constant, but typically come and go over periods of time. Most DLB symptoms can be seen in other types of dementia too. However, there are a few dementia symptoms that are unique to Lewy body dementia. They are:
- Movement problems, similar to Parkinson's disease
- Unsteadiness, increasing the risk of falls
- Visual hallucinations
- Vivid dreams which might disrupt sleep
- Problems with the sense of smell
Everyday activities may also become increasingly difficult, and other health problems may arise. Most people with DLB eventually need daily care and support.
Dementia Symptoms: Frontotemporal Dementia
Unlike some other forms of dementia, the first symptoms of frontotemporal dementia are not usually memory-related. Instead, frontotemporal dementia tends to begin with behaviour changes or language issues. This is a particularly rare form of dementia which affects the front and side lobes of the brain. In most cases, frontotemporal dementia affects slightly younger people. Those between the ages of 45 and 65 are most likely to be diagnosed. However, it is like other forms of dementia in that it develops slowly over several years.
Behavioural symptoms include:
- Acting impulsively
- Losing overall interest in people and things
- Being insensitive or rude
- Loss of inhibitions
- Neglecting personal hygiene
- Seeming subdued
Language-related symptoms include:
- Repeating a few phrases consistently
- Getting words in the wrong order
- Mixing up words - for example, calling a dog a cat
- Hesitating while speaking or speaking very slowly
As this condition progresses, some people also begin experiencing mental symptoms. In contrast, these symptoms are quite rare in the early stages of the condition.
Mental symptoms include:
- Difficulty recognising familiar people/objects
- Getting distracted easily
- Poor judgement or lack of organisation
- Difficulty making decisions, needing clear instructions
To repeat, you should contact your GP if you experience any of the symptoms we've discussed today. Even if you aren't sure whether they're related to dementia, it's always better to be safe than sorry. Early diagnosis is without a doubt one of the biggest factors in the success of dementia treatment.
Learn More About Dementia
In summary, if you’re looking to learn more about dementia, you can read our in-depth guide to the condition on the blog. You’ll also find some useful tips on how to cope with the condition daily.
What's more, 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.
If you have just received a dementia diagnosis, or you know someone who has, then it's worth considering a personal alarm from Lifeline24. For further information on our personal alarm service, please speak to one of our friendly advisers on 0800 999 0400. Alternatively, complete our Contact Us form and we will get back to you as soon as possible.
You can read this comprehensive guide to the personal alarm in order to find out more.
Editor's Note: This article was updated on 20th June 2022 to reflect current information.
Everyone has a story to tell. It may be an event from your life or something entirely fictional, but we all have stories within us. In fact, storytelling is a fundamental part of what makes us human. It is a means of contextualising our understanding of the world and relating to others. In many cases, it can also help us confront our own emotions. Furthermore, creative writing has many cognitive benefits.
What are Cognitive Benefits?
In short, a cognitive benefit improves brain function or mental health. It could be that you become a more efficient problem solver or simply relieve some stress. Engaging in activities that promote cognitive benefits can help to prevent mental health conditions such as depression, whilst also reducing the likelihood of developing dementia.
Creative writing's cognitive benefits are plentiful. This is because writing, especially in an imaginative sense, forces you to use your brain in a different - yet still familiar - way. You have to look at things differently and put careful consideration into your choice of words. Plus, the satisfaction of finishing a piece of writing releases dopamine, which improves mood as well as motor and brain functions.
What Counts as Creative Writing?
The definition of creative writing varies depending on who you ask. In its simplest form, though, creative writing is any piece of writing that tells a story. Often, this story will convey a message or seek to elicit an emotion. However, this is not always the case.
Creative writing includes:
- Short stories
This list is not exhaustive.
What are Creative Writing's Cognitive Benefits?
As we have mentioned, creative writing can improve brain function and improve mental health. But how? Consider this list of how creative writing provides cognitive benefits.
Many of is, at one time or another, will have found ourselves fighting a whirlwind of thoughts. As soon as one thing enters our minds, something else sweeps in to take its place. This can result in a loss of focus and no small amount of frustration. Sometimes, as these thoughts race through our heads, we can end up lingering on unpleasant memories.
However, creative writing allows you to channel these thoughts into one place. It gets them out of your head and helps you to process them better. This type of writing is often known as "stream of consciousness"; you simply put pen to paper and let your thoughts flow out. It doesn't have to form a coherent structure, but you may be surprised where the process leads you.
One of the main advantages of this is that it relieves stress. Whatever was stuck in your head has now been made tangible. You can view it as words to throw away and forget about or the beginnings of a new project. By working through your chaotic thoughts, you can identify methods of controlling them and avoiding negative mindsets.
Addressing Strong Emotions
Everyone gets emotional sometimes. It's a natural part of being human. We feel things, and some things we feel more than others. However, there are many people who attempt to push those emotions deep down inside. This, science has proven, can have negative impacts on your health.
In fact, ignoring your emotions can lead to poor sleep, high stress, and lower immune function. It can also lead to the development of stomach ulcers, heart disease, and anger issues. Whilst it is advised to talk about your difficult emotions with others, sometimes this can feel difficult. Fortunately, writing can help you express them.
Creative writing can help you turn your feelings into a story. This helps you process your emotions and work through them. You can also use your writing as a means of expressing your emotions to others. If you turn your feelings into a story, your loved ones may better understand what you are experiencing.
When we write, we are often exposing parts of ourselves we weren't even aware of. Our vulnerabilities escape onto the page, and it's not until we reread our work that we realise. However, increased awareness of our own struggles, thoughts, and ideas is key to improving our understanding of our place in the world.
This self-awareness also plays into feelings of anxiety and depression. Often, we can struggle to pinpoint exactly what it is that is making us feel a certain way. When we write, however, our subconscious can tell us what has been bothering us.
Therefore, by writing and then reading what we have written, we can find solutions to the things that bother us.
Improve Your Attention Span
There is a popular study that claims adults now have attention spans of roughly 8 seconds. What this effectively means is that you should have tuned out of this article by now. Whilst the veracity of this study has been called into question, it is true that many people have shorter attention spans today than they did in the past.
So how can creative writing help with this? When you write, you are forcing your brain to focus on one task. However, you are not only doing one things. Many people don't realise it, but writing requires multitasking. You must write, think, and often read all at one.
Doing so channels your focus. You choose what goes on the page, but the need to keep your handwriting neat as well as to finish your thought keeps you going. And when one sentence is complete, another springs to mind and demands to be written. Furthermore, the more you write the stronger your focus will become.
Older adults can often find themselves worrying about their memory. Creative writing provides the cognitive benefits of improved memory. As we have touched on before, when we write we are processing our thoughts in a more organised manner. This can help to contextualise them in our minds and make them easier to manage.
Moreover, the written word can be more reliable than our minds alone. Even a brief note on a scrap of paper can trigger a memory of an errand we have yet to do. When we write a story, we are forming a sequence of events in our minds that connect to one another. Forming these connections helps to strengthen our cognitive processes.
There is also evidence to suggest that handwriting, in particular, can create specific connections in our brains. The texture of paper, the weight of the pen, and even the smell of the ink can help improve our recall abilities. This is because sensory input plays a large role in forming memories.
You may have heard it said that authors write what they know. What often isn't mentioned is that authors are constantly expanding what they know to tell stories. Most writers are open-minded people with a deep understanding of many topics and points of view. This is because they take the time to learn new things, hear different perspectives, and expand on what they already know.
One of creative writing's cognitive benefits is the opportunity it provides to learn new things. The great thing is that you never know exactly what you're going to find out. You might be writing a short story about someone who goes fishing and need to know how a fishing rod works. Alternatively, you might write about a walk in the woods and need to find out about the distinguishing features of different trees.
There is no end to the things you might discover. Many writers can attest to the "rabbit hole" effect, where one quick question leads to you read about more and more things. The simplest fragment of missing information can become the perfect opportunity to expand your knowledge.
Personal Alarms from Lifeline24
Here at Lifeline24 we believe in supporting your independence at home. A Lifeline24 alarm puts you in safe hands 24/7, 365 days a year. Simply press the button on your alarm or pendant and our Response Team will arrange help on your behalf.
This assistance could be a family member, friend, trusted neighbour, or the emergency services when necessary.