What's dementia, how is it different from Alzheimer's and what are the symptoms and stages of the disease?

DEMENTIA affects 850,000 people across the UK – and this figure is expected to rise to over 1 million by 2025, and 2 million by 2051.

The disease has been the subject of many novels, films and TV which can help us learn more – but we've got the lowdown on what dementia is an what life is like after diagnosis.

What are the different types of dementia?

Dementia is known for the problems it causes with thinking, reasoning and memory – as these are the areas in the brain that become damaged with the disease.

There are two main groups dementia can be split into: Cortical, which causes severe memory loss like that seen in Alzheimer's, and Sub-cortical, which affects thinking speed and activity as seen with Parkinson's disease.

Vascular dementia and Alzheimer's are two of the most common forms of the disease, and they both cause problems with memory – both are rare in those under 65 years old.

Other common forms of dementia are Frontotemporal dementia, mostly diagnosed in those under 65 years old, and dementia with Lewy bodies, where nerve damage gradually gets worse over time causing slowed movement.


What is vascular dementia and what causes it?

Vascular dementia is the second most common type of dementia in the UK after Alzheimer's disease, where the brain is damaged due to a lack of blood flow.

If the vascular system within the brain becomes damaged – so that the blood vessels leak or become blocked – then blood cannot reach the brain cells and they will eventually die.

This death of brain cells can cause problems with memory, thinking or reasoning, and when these cognitive problems are bad enough to impact on daily life, it is known as vascular dementia.

There are several different types of vascular dementia, due to the varying levels of damage on the affected part of the brain.

They include stroke-related dementia, single-infarct and multi-infarct dementia, subcortical vascular dementia and mixed dementia – which includes both vascular and Alzheimer's disease.

Is alcoholism related to dementia?

A new study has revealed that drinking may be related to dementia.

French scientists say that those who drink three pints a day are more than three times likelier to develop early-onset dementia than those who don't drink.

The researchers spent six years studying 57,000 patients who'd been diagnosed with dementia before the age of 65, and found 57 per cent had been heavy drinkers.

Eighteen per cent of dementia sufferers included in the study were problem drinkers.

What are the stages of dementia?

Many cases of dementia start with early warning signs. This early stage is known as cognitive impairment and can be barely noticeable or mistaken for something else, such as depression.

These include slight:

  • slowness of thought
  • difficulty with planning
  • trouble with language
  • problems with attention and concentration
  • mood or behavioural changes

These symptoms can indicate that some brain damage has already occurred and treatment needs to be started immediately before symptoms get worse and are more difficult to treat.

Changes often happen in sudden steps, with relatively stable periods in between, although it's difficult to predict when these steps will happen – so acting fast is the key.

As well as the symptoms listed above, further possible signs can include feeling disorientated and confused, memory loss and difficulty concentrating, struggling to find the right words and severe personality changes – including becoming aggressive, finding it difficult to walk, struggling to control urination and seeing things that aren't there.

The signs for early Alzheimer's are similar including losing items frequently, forgetting conversations or events and getting lost of familiar journeys.

How is dementia treated?

There is no specific treatment for dementia and no way to reverse the damage to the brain that has already occurred.

However, treatment may help slow down the progression of the condition and the main aim is to treat the underlying cause to help prevent further problems, such as strokes.

Medicines and lifestyle changes will be encouraged including eating healthily, losing weight if necessary, stop smoking, get fit and cutting down on alcohol.

Support such as physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech and language therapy is also beneficial, but despite treatment dementia can significantly shorten life expectancy.

The average survival time from diagnosis is around four years and most people will die either from complications of dementia, such as pneumonia, or from a subsequent stroke.

How has Emmerdale raised awareness for dementia?

Emmerdale devoted an entire episode to village vicar Ashley Thomas, who has been battling vascular dementia in the show for two years.

The special episode was filmed through his eyes, letting viewers in on his distorted view of the world as the disease progresses.

Viewers were gripped by the heartbreaking storyline unfolding for the much-loved character.

The Alzheimer's Society advised on scripts to ensure Ashley's symptoms and diagnosis showed a realistic representation of someone living with dementia.

A dementia support worker also visited the Emmerdale set to advise actor John Middleton on how best to portray some of the trickier scenes in Ashley's dementia journey.

After leaving Emmerdale, the actor feels his TV career is far from over and has let slip that he’s on course to appear in top ITV dramas now he’s quit the soap.

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