About Dementia

 The journey into dementia has its disappointments to be endured as well as its triumphs to be cherished. In all of the ambiguities and confusion there may also be signs of hope, for this is a journey with intersecting signposts; reminders of the past and pointers to the future. There are always fresh opportunities for a new walk on a new day.[1]


The term ‘dementia’ is used to describe the symptoms that occur when the brain is damaged by one or more of several specific diseases and conditions This results in number of  different forms of dementia.

  “Awareness is very mixed. A much more ‘hidden’ disease than, for example cancer. I think it is difficult for a carer to explain that a partner, relative or close friend has dementia. Stigma remains strong.” Carer
 Symptoms typically include:
  • memory loss
  • confusion
  • disorientation
  • problems with speech
  • comprehension / understanding deficits

An important feature is that people with a dementia find it difficult or impossible to learn new skills.

The illness is progressive, typically lasts 7-12 years between diagnosis and death and gradually erodes the individual’s ability to self care.

Dementia as a co-morbidity

It should be noted that, as a disease that predominates in the elderly, it is common for dementia to co-exist with other long-term conditions. These may be related – cardiovascular disease or diabetes for example or unrelated such as asthma. There is evidence that exacerbations or poor control of long term conditions can accelerate the progress of a co-morbid dementia. Clearly dementias can make it more difficult for the person with an LTC to manage their condition particularly if that condition deteriorates.  Taken together it can be seen that those people with both an LTC and a dementia need considerable support and overview.

Protection issues

Dementia can change a person’s character and make them very challenging to live with. The person with dementia may need to be protected from physical or financial abuse. Also it should be remembered that most carers of people with advanced dementia report that the have been verbally abused by the person for whom they are caring and a significant proportion of carers report that they have been physically abused as well. Carers may also need protection.

Changing society

Whilst awareness of dementia is rising it can be argued that the society in which people now live is becoming even more difficult for dementia sufferers and their carers – fewer post offices, fewer local shops, fewer local banks leading to greater isolation. The growing reliance on technology – ‘chip and pin’ shopping, cash points, communication via the internet etc all require the learning of new skills and a good memory – not having these is increasingly disadvantageous.

 Dementia statistics

The National Picture
  • There are currently 720,000 people with a dementia in the UK.
  • Of these approximately 15,000 are younger people with dementia
  • There are over 11,500 people with dementia from black and minority ethnic groups in the UK.
  • There will be over a million people with dementia by 2025.
  • Two thirds of people with dementia are women.
  • The proportion of people with dementia doubles for every 5 year age group.
  • One third of people over 95 have dementia.
  • 60,000 deaths a year are directly attributable to dementia.
  • Delaying the onset of dementia by 5 years would reduce deaths directly attributable to dementia by 30,000 a year.
  • The financial cost of dementia to the UK is over £17 billion a year (Alzheimer society estimate).
  • Family carers of people with dementia save the UK over £6 billion a year.
  • 64{79f878acaa41f375dcd804cc8c058b5459a5482f20a3b9f87269b26c8734749b} of people living in care homes have a dementia.
  • Two thirds of people with dementia live in the community while one third live in a care home.

[1] Rosalie Hudson (2006) Spirited Walking
In M Marshall & K Allan Dementia: Walking not Wandering London: Hawker (p.113)

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