What is dementia?
Dementia is not an inevitable part of ageing and is not a disease in its own right. It is an umbrella term. It describes the symptoms that occur when the brain is affected by certain diseases or conditions which cause the gradual death of brain cells. This leads to progressive cognitive decline.
How fast cognitive decline progresses will vary from person to person and may depend on which type of dementia they have. Symptoms include loss of memory, changes in behaviour and mood, and problems with communication and reasoning skills. There are many different types of dementia. The most common are:
This video from the Alzheimer’s Society explains what dementia is, how it affects the brain and how it might affect a person with the disease
For more information on the above, see Early signs of dementia
Who does dementia affect?
More than 800,000 people in the UK are living with dementia – a number expected to rise to a million by 2021 (Alzheimer’s Society 2015).
The vast majority of people with dementia are aged 65 and over, but an estimated 40,000 people under 65 are living with dementia in the UK (Alzheimer’s Society 2015).
- Two thirds of people with dementia are women.
- There are over 25,000 people with dementia from black and minority ethnic groups in the UK.
- 225,000 will develop dementia this year; that’s one every three minutes.
- Only 59 per cent of people with dementia in England have a formal diagnosis.
- Worldwide, more than 47.4 million people are currently estimated to have dementia and 4.6 million new cases are diagnosed each year.
- Dementia has a bigger impact on women – half a million women in the UK are now living with dementia. The condition is the leading cause of death in women in the UK.
The total estimated worldwide cost of dementia was US$604 billion in 2010. If dementia care were a country, it would be the world’s 18th largest economy, ranking between Turkey and Indonesia. If dementia care were a company, it would be the world’s largest by annual revenue exceeding Wal-Mart (US$414 billion) and Exxon Mobil (US$311 billion).Alzheimer’s Disease International (2010) World Alzheimer report 2010: The global economic impact of dementia
Dementia costs the UK economy about £24 billion a year – more than cancer and heart disease combined (ARUK 2015).
The Alzheimer’s Society says that:
- 60,000 deaths a year in the UK are directly attributable to dementia.
- There are 670,000 unpaid carers of people with dementia in the UK. Women are more likely to take on unpaid caring roles for people with dementia and are more than twice as likely as men to provide intensive, 24-hour care.
- Two thirds of people with dementia live in the community in their own homes while one third live in a care home.
- An estimated 80 per cent of people living in care homes have either dementia or severe memory problems (see Statistics on the Alzheimer’s Society website).
Figures published in January 2013 by the Alzheimer’s Society show that while there has been an increase in the number of people diagnosed with dementia, more than 400,000 people in the UK are living with dementia without knowing it.
What is being done to help people with dementia?
Since 2009, dementia strategies have been produced for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland with one central objective – to provide better care and support for people with dementia and their families.
The appointment of dementia advisers, the setting up of memory clinics to spot and treat the early signs of dementia and providing improved support for carers are among the many initiatives that have been launched in different parts of the UK.
In 2012, Prime Minister David Cameron launched a Challenge on dementia to ensure that England ‘is the best country in the world for dementia care and support and for people with dementia, their carers and families to live and is the best place in the world to undertake research into dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases’.
The Department of Health maintains a website for the Dementia Challenge, a good place to check on progress with implementation.
Further reading Open
Alzheimer’s Disease International (2010) World Alzheimer report 2010: The global economic impact of dementia, London: ADI.
Alzheimer’s Research UK (2015) ‘Facts and stats’, online information.
Alzheimer Scotland, ‘Number of people with dementia in Scotland in 2015’ online information.
Alzheimer’s Society, ‘Statistics’, online information.
Alzheimer’s Society (2015) Dementia 2015 London: Alzheimer’s Society.
Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (2011) ‘Improving dementia services in Northern Ireland: a regional strategy’. Belfast: DHSSPS, Northern Ireland Assembly.
Department of Health (2012) Prime Minister’s challenge on dementia: Delivering major improvements in dementia care and research by 2015, London: Department of Health.
Scottish Government (2010) Scotland’s National Dementia Strategy, Edinburgh: Scottish Government.
Scottish Government (2013) Scotland’s National Dementia Strategy 2013–2016, Edinburgh: Scottish Government.
SCIE Social Care TV: ‘The causes of dementia’
Welsh Assembly Government and Alzheimer’s Society (2011) National dementia vision for Wales, Cardiff: Welsh Assembly Government.
Useful links Open
The website for Age UK, England's largest organisation working with and for older people, has specific pages on dementia, which cover topics such as ‘What is dementia?’, ‘Could you be at risk?’, ‘Diagnosis and treatment’, and ‘Help and support’.
Alzheimer’s Research UK (ARUK)
The UK’s largest research charity for dementia. Its website provides information About dementia for the general public and professionals, for example on causes, symptoms, different types of dementia and the treatments available. The site includes the section, Dementia explained, which is aimed at children and young people.
The Alzheimer’s Society is the leading care and research charity campaigning for people with dementia and those who care for them. In addition to its network of local branches, the Society also runs an information helpline, produces a wide range of publications (including over 80 free factsheets on all aspects of dementia), and hosts a range of web-based forums.
As well as producing web-based information and factsheets, the charity Dementia UK runs a telephone and email helpline for anyone affected by dementia, including professionals, known as Admiral Nursing Direct. The helpline is staffed by specialist mental health nurses, known as Admiral Nurses, who work to support the families and carers of people with dementia. The service offers information, practical advice
and emotional support.
NHS Choices describes itself as the ‘online front door to the NHS’. It is the UK’s biggest health website and includes an A-Z of health conditions, including a substantial Dementia Guide section, which covers About dementia, Symptoms of dementia, Living well with dementia, Help and support for people with dementia, and also includes an option to search for dementia services in your locality.