Dementia is the collective name for a number of different symptoms resulting from brain damage. It is not a disease in itself, but is caused by conditions or diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and others that affect the brain. It diminishes mental capabilities such as memory, language, problem solving and thinking. It also affects people’s behaviour.

According to Alzheimer’s Research UK, there are currently about 850,000 diagnosed cases in the UK. 1 in 14 people in the UK age 65 and over have dementia and 1 in 79 of the entire population (all age groups).

The real number may be higher than that because there are many thousands of people suffering from dementia who have not come forward for diagnosis and help.

Dementia is an overall term that covers several different types. The most common type is Alzheimer's disease with vascular dementia also quite common. Visit the NHS and Alzheimer's Society websites for more information.

Can dementia be cured?

Generally speaking there is no cure at this time for the type of dementia where it is as a result of brain damage. It is a progressive condition and worsens over time.

In some cases, medication slows the progression and there are many support agencies that provide assistance in managing it. That enables sufferers and their carers to manage better and allows patients to live for longer than might have been expected previously.

What are the symptoms?

There are several early warning signs or symptoms that can be quite minor in the beginning. Dementia affects people in different ways. It is important to know that behavioural changes or things like memory problems can be caused by other treatable conditions and may not be caused by dementia. That’s why it’s vital to visit your doctor if you or someone you care about exhibits some symptoms so that other possible causes can be investigated and treated.

How to reduce the risk of getting dementia

Illnesses such as stroke, heart disease and vascular disease can all increase the risk of dementia. Therefore eating healthily and staying active are the best precautions.

Quitting smoking and keeping your alcohol consumption within the recommended limits are also very important.

People who have Mild Cognitive Impairment (minor problems with thinking and memory) will benefit from both a healthy lifestyle and brain training through regular brain stimulation activities.

How to get help

There are many ways to enjoy a good life after being diagnosed with dementia.

A Dementia Advisor from Alzheimer's Society

People who have been diagnosed with dementia may then be referred to a Dementia Advisor from Alzheimer's Society. These advisors become your contact point for finding out about local services and support groups and for any questions you may have. They help you to access relevant services on an ongoing basis.

Keeping your independence

The earlier you seek help, the greater your chances of living independently for longer.

The support services can help you to:

Drivers who have been diagnosed with dementia are legally obliged to inform the DVLA. They will ask your doctor if it is safe for you to continue driving. You may need to undergo a driving assessment.

The Alzheimer's Society has loads of useful and practical information about handling memory problems, including many tips that may work for you.

Planning ahead

People who have been diagnosed with a condition that affects their memory may wish to consider these actions. Deciding now on what you want to happen in the future makes everything easier in the future for both you and your loved ones.

Preferences about ongoing treatments and care

Arranging your finances for things like paying bills

Assigning power of attorney to a loved one

Making a will

Help in the later stages

You may need extra help with everyday living as the condition progresses. That may mean accessing social care. If family of friends are your carers then they may need specialist carer support.

The social services departments of local authorities run residential care homes for people with dementia where you can obtain specialist help. They also provide day care centres where carers also can obtain support.

Whether or not you need to pay for these social care services depends on your financial status. You can get more information about this from your own local authority.

Alzheimer's Society has some advice about care services you might find useful including selecting a care home.

Find out about what care services are available and selecting a care home from the Alzheimer's Society.

Caring for dementia patients

Caring for someone with dementia can be challenging and sometimes it may be difficult to know what to do. Alzheimer's Society information covers support and training for this type of care.

Talking with other carers is very useful when you can share experiences and get advice. There are carer groups that you can join for this very purpose. There is also an online forum, Alzheimer's Society's Talking Point community, that is useful for chatting with other people in a similar situation.

Carers UK and Carers Trust also make resources available online for carers. Carers Direct helpline is somewhere you can speak directly to a knowledgeable person about your care support issues.

Dementia Buddies

Feeling disorientated, wandering off and getting lost is a distressing common problem both for the person with dementia and for their loved ones. This is where the Dementia Buddies scheme is a great help and comfort. It provides electronic identification devices such as wristbands, badges, keyrings and bag-tags that are carried by the person with dementia. When a smartphone is held close to the device, the person’s first name and emergency contact details will be displayed on the phone. Find out more from your local dementia support service or phone 01942 888 990.

Younger people can get dementia support too

Dementia support is available to people of all ages, not just seniors. Young people with dementia have their own groups and activities as well as options for doing your own thing if groups do not appeal.

People with dementia who are still in work can get advice from Alzheimer's Society.

Would you like to help?

There are many things you can do if you want to get involved if you want to help build better dementia care in the community.

Join Dementia Friends: “Alzheimer’s Society’s Dementia Friends programme is the biggest ever initiative to change people’s perceptions of dementia. It aims to transform the way the nation thinks, acts and talks about the condition.

You will gain an appreciation about what dementia is like and learn ways to convert your new understanding into actionable activities.