Dementia guide

About dementia

If you're becoming increasingly forgetful, particularly if you're over the age of 65, it may be a good idea to talk to your GP about the early signs of dementia.

As you get older, you may find that memory loss becomes a problem. It's normal for your memory to be affected by age, stress, tiredness, or certain illnesses and medications. This can be annoying if it happens occasionally, but if it's affecting your daily life or is worrying you or someone you know, you should seek help from your GP.

How common is dementia?

According to the Alzheimer's Society there are around 800,000 people in the UK with dementia. One in three people over 65 will develop dementia, and two-thirds of people with dementia are women.

The number of people with dementia is increasing because people are living longer. It is estimated that by 2021, the number of people with dementia in the UK will have increased to around 1 million.

What is dementia?

Dementia is a common condition that affects about 800,000 people in the UK. Your risk of developing dementia increases as you get older, and the condition usually occurs in people over the age of 65.

Dementia is a syndrome (a group of related symptoms) associated with an ongoing decline of the brain and its abilities. This includes problems with:

  • memory loss
  • thinking speed
  • mental agility
  • language
  • understanding
  • judgement

People with dementia can become apathetic or uninterested in their usual activities, and have problems controlling their emotions. They may also find social situations challenging, lose interest in socialising, and aspects of their personality may change.

A person with dementia may lose empathy (understanding and compassion), they may see or hear things that other people do not (hallucinations), or they may make false claims or statements. 

As dementia affects a person's mental abilities, they may find planning and organising difficult. Maintaining their independence may also become a problem. A person with dementia will therefore usually need help from friends or relatives, including help with decision making.

Your GP will discuss the possible causes of memory loss with you, including dementia. Other symptoms can include:

  • increasing difficulties with tasks and activities that require concentration and planning
  • depression
  • changes in personality and mood
  • periods of mental confusion
  • difficulty finding the right words

Most types of dementia can't be cured, but if it is detected early there are ways you can slow it down and maintain mental function.

Read more about the symptoms of dementia.

Why is it important to get a diagnosis?

An early diagnosis can help people with dementia get the right treatment and support, and help those close to them to prepare and plan for the future. With treatment and support, many people are able to lead active, fulfilled lives.

Read more about how dementia is diagnosed.


Page last reviewed: 19/06/2013

Next review due: 19/06/2015

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The 7 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Daffyd said on 17 November 2014

My mother has just been diagnosed with dementia. Symptoms have been there for some time and now I am glad that I got power of attorney over her health and wellbeing as well as finances, a year ago, as this has made it easier to put care services in place. I can talk directly to her doctor and social services who have been very supportive.

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bagosya said on 30 October 2014

For those individual experiencing dementia we need to understand them ...

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Dlj2 said on 30 July 2014

I recently took my mother in law to my gp with memory issues, I rang ahead and asked for a note to go on screen that this would be a difficult appointment as she is scared of a diagnosis. To say I was disappointed was an understatement, he asked her to draw a clock and remember three items (but failed to talk to her in between) hence she sat and visably was repeating them in her head until he asked what they were and she answered correctly, at which point her assured her she has no issues just natural ageing!

I am so cross as it took us months to get her to the gp for fear of diagnosis, no family history was taken, my comments were asked back to my mil and if she didn't agree we're ignored, 2 items on a memory test is not thorough and no further action.

We then leave the room and my mum in law tells me thank god he didn't ask me those items now I can't remember anything we just said-thanks doctor!

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koggz said on 18 June 2014

Jd7777, you can request a competency test, which the doctor cannot refuse. If she was found to be incompetent, then the next of kin can request for a dementia screening

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jd7777 said on 07 April 2014

I agree with jenv46. I have recently tried to get my mother checked out as she has all the symptoms. She goes to a walk in clinic and doesn't have a named doctor. I spoke to the practice manager and was told that she must ask for a check herself. Why would she ask for one to be done when she doesn't understand the problem and becomes hostile when approached on the subject. 800,000 are reported to have dementia but I fear this figure is very inaccurate. Many can't get checked out and the Goverment and NHS need to change the laws/regulations to find out the true figure to enable a discreet check to made on the . Jd7777 07-04-2014

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jenv46 said on 19 March 2014

I went to the doctors about my husband memory loss on March 10th and asked if he could have a test. As of the 18th March I rung the secretaries of the doctors to be told no letter had been sent. Now I am also told I need to get his permission to ask question on hes behalf. I personally feel my husband is getting worse and I am getting nowhere

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Able Scribe said on 11 December 2013

With much regret I fear a search for a cure for these conditions can lead nowhere. To mitigate, there are worse conditions with a greater claim to redoubling our efforts even, than dementia. One was once called Dementia Praecox - premature dementia, when onset is in adolescent years and lasts a life-time. People can still not manage to bring themselves to confront this, preferring to keep a taboo of silence on it. Because this has another name of schizophrenia. I believe the time has come to blow the lid off all of this, so we can at least start to confront the conspiracies of silence that further blight the lives of people with these conditions. We need no fabricated pariahs - they serve no one any good. So let's make a new start and bring all mental health back in from the cold -and address the needs of people with all that is incurable and treatment-resistant in each and every one of these conditions. Reasons for not doing so are flimsy indeed.

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Brain tour: what is dementia?

Dementia affects over 800,000 people in the UK. It is not a disease in its own right and it is not a natural part of ageing. It is an umbrella term that describes a group of symptoms that are caused by many diseases that affect the brain for example, Alzheimer's disease.

Media last reviewed: 08/03/2013

Next review due: 08/03/2015

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