What is dementia?

Dementia is caused when the brain is damaged by diseases, such as a series of strokes or Alzheimer’s disease.  There are over 100 different types of dementia and the most common form is Alzheimer’s disease.  The symptoms present will differ dependent on which type a person has and which specific areas of the brain are damaged.  

Causes explored 

As previously mentioned there are many diseases that can trigger dementia. Below are the most common types explained:

  • Alzheimer’s disease –  This is caused by abnormal protein surrounding the brain cells and a different protein attacking the internal structure. Gradually, this causes the chemical connection among brain cells to be broken down.  Initially one of the first things likely to become apparent is issues with everyday memory. However there are other symptoms to look out for including perception difficulties, problems with articulation and struggling to make decisions. 
  • Vascular dementia –  This is caused by the thinning or blocking of blood vessels which reduces the oxygen supply to the brain eventually damaging or killing some brain cells.  This may be due to a course of small strokes which means symptoms will present themselves gradually or following a large stroke which means the symptoms will be displayed almost immediately.  Vascular dementia can also be the result of disease impacting upon blood vessels rooted in the brain.  This type is called subcortical vascular dementia.  The symptoms may differ and can reflect those of Alzheimer’s disease.  A lot of people living with vascular dementia may find it difficult to concentrate, have problem solving concerns and can also experience short intervals of confusion. 
  • Mixed dementia – Sometimes people can have more than one type of dementia which results in an amalgamation of symptoms.  It is very common for Alzheimer’s to present itself with vascular dementia.
  • Dementia with Lewy bodies – This is caused by small irregular formations (called Lewy bodies) assembling within brain cells.  This can affect the chemistry of the brain and ultimately lead to brain cells dying.  Sometimes the symptoms of dementia with Lewy bodies can reflect symptoms of Parkinson’s disease as they are very closely linked. Day-to-day memory is usually less affected than in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.  Symptoms can include hallucinations, struggling to judge distances and variations of alertness.  
  • Frontotemporal dementia (previously known as Pick’s disease) – This is caused by unusual proteins forming within the brain cells after damage to the front and side of the brain which then causes brain cells to die.  People living with Frontotemporal dementia may demonstrate symptoms where they have difficulty to speak fluently and can sometimes forget the meaning of words.  The initial symptoms which usually present themselves are changes in personality and behaviour.  

Assessment and Diagnosis

Everybody experiences the effects of dementia in their own way however. The main things to look out for are: problems with day-to-day memory, concentrating, language, judging distances and orientation.  

If you do feel worried about any of these things it may be a good idea to take a trip to see your GP so that they can carry out the necessary assessments and give an accurate diagnosis.  

These assessments are paramount to ensure that any other underlying conditions are ruled out such as chest or urinary tract infections, depression and vitamin/thyroid deficiencies.  A diagnosis also gives the person living with dementia some answers as to why they are experiencing these symptoms and can allow them to begin to adjust whilst having access to the appropriate treatment. 

If the conclusion of the assessment is a dementia diagnosis, the GP will need to clarify which type so that symptoms and progression can be predicted and managed.  

If you would like more information on understanding dementia please call us on 01474 533990 or email info@alz-dem.org

Share this page

Skip to content