About dementia

What is dementia?

Dementia is a term used to describe a group of diseases and conditions that are characterised by the decline and eventual loss of awareness. This can include memory, thinking, reasoning and perception, and changes in personality and mood. Dementia is a degenerative disease and the needs of an individual for health and social care will change over time with the greatest need coming towards the end of life.

prevalence of dementia pie chart

There are many different types of dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, alcohol related dementia and frontotemporal dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is reported to be the most common type of dementia.

Who is at risk?

Dementia is not exclusively a disease of older age, however age is the largest risk factor for dementia. The number of people who have the condition doubles every decade after the age of 65. Early onset dementia refers to types of dementias that occur before the age of 65; these dementias are less common and younger people are more likely to have rarer forms.

Adults with learning disabilities are at higher risk of developing dementia, particularly individuals with Down’s syndrome. It is estimated that 1 in 50 people with Down’s syndrome will develop dementia in their 30’s and this rises to more than half when an individual reaches 60 years and over.

What can we do about it?

Our primary focus is on preventing people getting dementia where possible through supporting healthy lifestyles and reducing vascular disease. Leading healthy lifestyles might reduce an individual’s risk of developing dementia. Evidence suggests that 34% of dementias could be preventable. The following factors could all contribute to prevention or delay of dementia:

  • reducing or stopping smoking
  • keeping physically active
  • maintaining a healthy weight
  • managing hypertension
  • maintaining social engagements

Many of these risk factors are linked to vascular health and an NHS Health Check is a great opportunity for people aged 40-74 to learn about their current physical health and get support to live healthier lifestyles.

However, once diagnosed, the focus needs to be on supporting people to have the best quality of life that they can and remain independent and active for as long as possible. This also includes supporting those caring for someone with dementia. In the final phase of the condition the focus needs to be on ensuring good end of life care.