What are the signs and symptoms of dementia?

At some point in their lives, most people have forgotten to keep an appointment they made or had trouble putting a name to a face. However, if these are becoming more frequent, or it’s becoming increasingly difficult to recall specific things, they may be symptoms of an underlying condition, particularly if other changes are occurring at the same time. People with dementia experience the condition in different ways. But, high on the list are memory lapses such as struggling to remember recent events.

However, other common symptoms can include:

  • Difficulty taking in new information.
  • Struggling to follow conversations or TV programmes.
  • Being unable to remember names or people or items.
  • Problems reasoning or making decisions.
  • Changes in behaviour, including becoming angry, frustrated or upset at memory issues.
  • Being disorientated in time or place.

A memory problem might be caused by the onset of dementia, but let’s go right back to the big question first.

What is dementia?

Truthfully, there is no single answer.

There are thought to be a lot of myths about dementia, so let’s start with some facts.

Although the ageing process puts someone at higher risk of developing certain types of dementia, it’s not a normal part of getting older.

Dementia is the name given to describe a variety of conditions. All of them can cause the brain to deteriorate more quickly than it would as part of the normal ageing process.

There is no way of predicting who may develop dementia symptoms but people with multiple sclerosis, motor neurone disease, Parkinson’s disease and Huntingdon’s disease can also be at risk of developing dementia.

Although each type of dementia can be very different and people can experience symptoms differently, it is a progressive disease that affects the brain. In turn this can affect a person's personality, ability to communicate and ultimately their physical and mental abilities.

There are many different types of dementia. Some are very rare and little is known about them. Some are much more common, and it’s these ones that you may have heard of. Here they are.

The more common types of dementia, and some facts about them.

Alzheimer’s Disease

This is the most common form of dementia. Alzheimer’s Disease develops ‘plaques’ and ‘tangles’ in the brain as well as depleting the brain of certain chemicals. These physically change the brain and its ability to send and receive signals. As the disease progresses the chemistry and structure of the brain changes. This leads to brain cells dying off and it becomes impossible to access what was held by those cells. This causes a decline in a person’s mental and physical abilities.

People with Alzheimer’s may become confused or disorientated. They may struggle to recall recent memory or people’s names. It can also affect their mood, making them angry, upset or frustrated.Support is essential as the dementia symptoms progress because the condition is likely to have an impact on the ability to communicate. This may lead to a person becoming withdrawn or depressed.

Vascular dementia

This is caused when the brain’s blood supply is interrupted. The symptoms of Vascular dementia can occur either suddenly, following a stroke, or over time through a series of smaller strokes or small vessel disease. Not everyone who has had a stroke will go on to develop this type of dementia but those who have are more at risk.

As with Alzheimer’s Disease, Vascular dementia can develop in different ways in different people. Commonly it can affect a person’s concentration, cause confusion or even seizures.

Memory problems aren’t always the first symptom of Vascular dementia.

Dementia with Lewy Bodies

Lewy bodies are small, circular lumps of protein that develop inside brain cells. It’s still not known what causes them. It’s also unclear how they damage the brain and eventually cause dementia symptoms. However, their presence is linked to low levels of important chemical messengers and a loss of connections between nerve cells.

This form of dementia is often closely related to Parkinson’s Disease where people can have similar symptoms such as involuntary shaking and slow movement. Memory may not be affected by this form of dementia as much as it is by Alzheimer’s Disease but a more common symptom may be experiencing issues with attention span or spatial awareness.

Fronto-temporal dementia

This type of dementia is one of the less common forms and it’s caused by damage and shrinking in two specific areas of the brain which control behaviour, emotions and language. It’s sometimes called Pick’s Disease. When nerve cells in these parts of the brain die, the pathways that connect them change and, over time, the brain tissue shrinks. This form of dementia is more likely to affect younger people, under the age of 65.

By its nature, people with this type of dementia are likely to experience personality changes. This can be particularly difficult as the person begins to change. Some symptoms may be aggression or being distracted. Sufferers may lack tact or empathy. It may also affect their ability to hold conversations and find the right words.

Some rarer causes of dementia

Some signs you may spot

Dementia symptoms can show themselves in different ways in different people. It’s not always forgetfulness. It may be changes in their personality, a spatial awareness issue or confusion or even being unable to find the right words. Making notes of concerns can help identify a pattern that may suggest specific dementia symptoms.

Having this information to hand will also enable the GP to help.