About dementia

Dementia is an umbrella term for a range of conditions associated with damage to the brain or brain cells (neuron). This means the brain cannot work as well as it should.

Dementia can affect your ability to remember, think and speak. It also affects how you feel and behave.

Different types of dementia include:

There are many other types of dementia, these are some of the most common. Dementia is not part of the natural ageing process.

Symptoms of dementia

Dementia is a progressive condition. This means symptoms change and become more severe over time. How quickly dementia progresses depends on the individual.

Early symptoms of dementia are often mild and may only get worse gradually. This means you may not notice if you have symptoms. Also, family and friends may not notice them or take them seriously for some time.

Over time, people with dementia may find it difficult to maintain independence. This means they may need help from friends and relatives or need support with decision making.

It’s important to talk to your GP if you’re worried about memory problems.

Types of dementia symptoms

Dementia can include problems with:

  • language
  • short-term memory
  • spatial awareness and vision
  • sensory changes
  • concentration
  • social situations
  • planning and organising
  • thinking speed
  • mental sharpness and quickness
  • language, like using the wrong words or having trouble speaking
  • doing daily living tasks
  • understanding
  • judgement
  • movement
  • depression
  • seeing or hearing things that other people do not (hallucinations)

Dementia may also cause changes to:

  • mood or behaviour
  • sleep
  • appetite
  • interests

Causes of dementia

The risk of developing dementia increases as you get older. The biggest risk factor for dementia is age, particularly for those over 65. But, people who are younger can also develop dementia.

Dementia is caused by different diseases that cause gradual changes and damage to the brain. These can cause the brain cells to deteriorate and die more quickly than normal. This can lead to dementia and symptoms like reduced mental and physical ability.

Most types of dementia are not usually inherited from family members. But, a type of dementia called frontotemporal dementia can sometimes run in families. Certain types Alzheimer’s, including early onset Alzheimer’s, may also be inherited.

You can reduce your risk of dementia by stopping smoking, being physically active, being socially active and eating healthily.

Other causes of memory problems

Other kinds of cognitive changes, like memory problems, can be caused by:

These types of changes are not dementia.

Diagnosing dementia

Some conditions can cause the same symptoms as dementia. To help diagnose dementia, doctors will do tests to rule out other conditions first.

Your doctor will also discuss the problems you have experienced. This helps to show how they have developed over time.

Treatment for dementia

If it’s detected early, there are ways to slow the progression of dementia. This can help people with dementia maintain brain function and everyday activity. Medicines and other treatments can also help dementia symptoms.

Medicines for dementia

Medicines for dementia can help to maintain or improve your independence.

Not everyone with dementia will benefit from medication. It will depend on the type of dementia you have and how far it’s progressed.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. Most of the medicines for dementia are used to treat this.

Some people with dementia can have depression. Your GP may prescribe an antidepressant for this or you may need to see a psychiatrist.

Other treatments for dementia

There are other treatments can help the symptoms of dementia.

These can include:

  • cognitive stimulation – aims to improve memory, problem-solving and language
  • community connections – continuing to be involved in social activities can help manage the symptoms of dementia
  • relationship based therapy – aims to find reasons for stress and distress, and suggests strategies to try and change it

Young Onset Dementia

While most people living with dementia are over the age of 65, up to 3,000 people in Scotland are living with dementia at a younger age.

For younger people receiving a diagnosis, the disruption to work, family life and financial independence can create extra challenges and pressure.

But, it’s still very important that those living with dementia at a younger age access a diagnosis and support. This can help them to stay well for longer.

Reducing your risk of dementia

There’s no certain way to prevent all types of dementia. But, a healthy lifestyle can help lower the risk of developing dementia when you’re older, as well as improving your general health and wellbeing. A healthy lifestyle can also help people living with dementia stay well for longer

To take better care of your brain health, and to reduce your dementia risk, you should aim to:

Brain Health Scotland has further advice on brain health and dementia risk.

Support for dementia

Support and information is available if you or a loved one have been diagnosed with dementia. You can get advice on:

Alzheimer Scotland also provide further information.

Last updated:
27 May 2024