1 in 3 people over the age of 65 will develop dementia. Here, we will answer the common questions "What causes dementia and why?"

24 September

According to the Alzheimer’s Society, there are currently more than 800,000 people with dementia in the UK. It is estimated that one in three people over the age of 65 will develop dementia – two-thirds of them being women. Despite these large figures however, there is much confusion and mystery surrounding the condition. This article will endeavour to answer some of the commonly asked questions about what causes dementia and why.

What causes it?

Dementia is actually a general term used to describe a decline in mental ability that is severe enough to interfere with daily life. This decline is caused by gradual changes and damage in the brain – most commonly from diseases where the cells degenerate more quickly than they would as part of the normal aging process. There is often a build up of abnormal proteins in the brain, which differs in each type of dementia. Generally speaking, dementia is not hereditary. Other possible causes include vascular disorders, traumatic brain injury, drug or alcohol abuse, depression, and infections of the nervous system.

Common types of dementia

There are many different kinds of dementia, each usually attributed to a specific condition or disease. Some are more common than others. These different types include:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB)
  • Frontotemporal dementia (FTD)
  • Vascular dementia
  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD)
  • Mixed dementia
  • Huntington’s disease
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Normal pressure hydrocephalus
  • Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome

Of all the different types listed, Alzheimer’s is by far the most common and accounts for an estimated 60 to 80 percent of cases in the UK. You can learn more about the different kinds of dementia here.

How is it treated?

Because there are so many types of dementia, treatment will depend on the cause and the individual’s own symptoms. In most cases of progressive dementia’s such as Alzheimer’s disease, there is no cure or treatments that slow or stop its progression. There are however some drug and non-drug treatments that may help to alleviate symptoms.

In the absence of a cure, it is important to place more focus on how to live with the condition and to make certain lifestyle changes that can improve overall health and wellbeing. Things like taking regular exercise, adopting a healthy balanced diet and undergoing cognitive rehabilitation can really make a difference over the long-term. Therapies are another valuable form of treatment for both the person with dementia and their family and friends.

Where to get further help?

Care and support for people with dementia should be person-centred, valuing them as a unique individual. There are a lot of organisations that offer information and support to people with dementia and their families, such as Dementia UK and the Alzheimer’s Society.

It may also be worth considering getting some extra support at home. This allows people to retain their sense of independence and can offer valuable respite to family and friends who are acting as carers. You can find out more about our dementia care services here.



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