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What is dementia?

The NHS describes dementia as a syndrome (a group of related symptoms) associated with an ongoing decline of brain function. This may include problems ranging from memory loss to difficulties carrying out daily activities.

The brain is comprised of nerve cells, called neurones, which communicate with each other by sending messages. Dementia damages these nerve cells so messages can’t be sent from and to the brain effectively and this in turn prevents normal functioning of the body.

There are many subtypes of dementia, but the most common are Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, frontotemporal dementia, and mixed dementia.

According to a major 2014 report published by the Alzheimer’s Society:

  • Around 850,000 people in the UK have dementia
  • One in 14 people aged 65 and over will develop dementia
  • Dementia affects 1 in 6 people over 80
  • As a worst case scenario the number of people with dementia in the UK is forecast to increase to over 1 million by 2025 and over 2 million by 2051

The Alzheimer’s Society has a useful guide to dementia which can be downloaded here

What is Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia. The NHS states that it is a progressive condition, which means the symptoms develop gradually over many years and eventually become more severe, affecting multiple brain functions.

Early Alzheimer's disease symptoms include difficulty remembering times and dates as well as absorbing new information. Someone living with Alzheimer's disease may also display changes in behaviour such as becoming withdrawn, depressed, anxious, confused or losing interest in their usual activities. Some changes in behaviour and mood, such as agitation, may be a reaction to living in surroundings that are not supporting their needs fully.

As the disease worsens symptoms may include:

  • difficulty planning and making decisions
  • difficulty with language
  • memory loss and confusion
  • problems thinking logically and carrying out specific tasks
  • becoming agitated and aggressive
  • incontinence
  • loss of interest in eating and drinking

Here we look at what Caremark’s dementia and Alzheimer’s disease home care services can offer you and your family.

In this guide we’ll focus on:

The symptoms of dementia
The causes of dementia
Dementia treatments: now and in the future
Planning ahead
How Caremark can help those living with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease

A member of our friendly team will be happy to give you further details about Caremark’s dementia care services and how we can help you and your loved one. Please click here to find the contact details for your local office.

If you are looking after someone with dementia you might find our tips on caring for someone with dementia useful. Click here to read them.

Symptoms of dementia

There are many different types of dementia and each one can affect people differently. Some of the common early symptoms include:

  • Memory loss
  • Concentration problems
  • Confusion and difficulty with everyday tasks
  • Communication problems, including struggling to follow a conversation or find the right word
  • Confusion over times and places
  • Mood and behaviour changes

What to do if you think someone is suffering from dementia

Dementia is not part of the ageing process, so if you have any concerns about your own or your loved one’s memory problems (or anything else associated with dementia), it’s a good idea to seek the advice of a professional. At first symptoms are often mild and deterioration may be a very gradual process. When symptoms are not serious enough to be diagnosed as dementia it’s diagnosed as MCI - Mild Cognitive Impairment. Often, with MCI the person with the symptoms won’t recognise them themselves and it will be family and/or friends who raise concern. Sometimes people with MCI will not go on to develop dementia. Either way, it’s very important to seek advice because help and support is never far away.

We’ve put together a few tips for helping someone with dementia. Read more here.

What causes dementia?

Many diseases result in dementia, let's take a look at some of the most common types.

Alzheimer’s disease

With Alzheimer’s disease - the most common cause of dementia - abnormal protein surrounds brain cells and another protein damages their internal structure. Over a period of time this causes the loss of chemical connections between cells and cells begin to die. Symptoms include memory loss, and difficulties finding the right words.

Vascular dementia

With this disease brain cells become damaged or die because narrowed or blocked blood vessels reduce oxygen supply to the brain. Vascular dementia can also be caused because of a disease affecting small blood vessels deep in the brain. Symptoms can occur suddenly after a large stroke or over time, because of several small strokes. Many people with vascular dementia have difficulty planning and concentrating. They might also get easily confused for short periods of time.

Mixed dementia

This disease is a mix of different dementia types, presenting a mix of symptoms. Someone might have both Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia at the same time.

Dementia with Lewy bodies

Closely related to Parkinson’s disease with some of the same symptoms, dementia with Lewy bodies is when tiny abnormal structures form inside brain cells and disrupt the chemistry of the brain, leading to the brain cells dying. Symptoms can include hallucinations, difficulties judging distance and alertness that varies over the course of the day.

Frontotemporal dementia

With this type of dementia the front and side parts of the brain are damaged as clumps of abnormal proteins form inside brain cells causing them to die. First symptoms include changes in behaviour and personality. The person may also forget the meaning of words and have difficulty speaking fluently.

In the later stages of dementia, as the symptoms progress, the person will usually need an increasing amount of support to carry out everyday tasks.

What can be done to decrease the chance of getting dementia?

Researchers are still investigating how dementia develops and there’s no definite way of preventing dementia from occurring, but we do know that a healthy lifestyle can help reduce the risk of getting the disease.
The following are ways in which you can adopt a healthy lifestyle and look after your heart - which, in turn, will help to look after your brain.

Exercise regularly: the NHS Live well guide recommends adults between 19 and 64 years old do at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity such as cycling or brisk walking every week and strength exercises that work all the major muscles on 2 or more days a week.

Eat a healthy, balanced diet: the NHS Eatwell guide has a downloadable pdf to help you get the right mix of foods from each food group.

Maintain a healthy weight: if you are overweight or obese, losing even just 5 to 10% of excess weight can help reduce your risk of developing dementia. You can use the NHS’s healthy weight calculatorto see if you are within the healthy range.

Cut down on alcohol: have several drink-free days each week and try to stick to the recommended advice of no more than 14 units a week for both men and women.

Stop smoking: the NHS smoke free website is full of helpful advice and information.

Have a health check - Available free, every five years

People aged between 40 and 75 (without a pre-existing condition) are entitled to a free NHS Health Check. Offered every five years, this check can help spot early signs and tell if you are at higher risk of health problems that may affect your risk of getting dementia.

Dementia treatments: what’s available now and in the future

While there’s currently no cure for dementia, there are treatments to help with the symptoms.


Most dementia medicines are used to treat Alzheimer’s disease - the most common form of dementia.

Acetylcholinesterase inhibitors

According to the NHS these medicines prevent an enzyme from breaking down a substance called acetylcholine in the brain, which helps nerve cells communicate with each other. Donepezil (Aricept), rivastigmine (Exelon) and galantamine (Reminyl) are used to treat the symptoms of mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. Donepezil is also used to treat more severe Alzheimer’s disease.


This is given to people with moderate or severe Alzheimer’s disease, dementia with Lewy bodies and those with a mixture of Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia. It works by blocking the effects of an excessive amount of a chemical in the brain called glutamate.

Antipsychotic medicines

The later stages of dementia often bring with it what is known as behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD). Symptoms of this can include agitation, anxiety, hallucinations and delusions. There are many coping strategies to help handle these symptoms, but in extreme cases where these don’t work antipsychotic medicines such as risperidone or haloperidol may be prescribed.

Alternative remedies and therapy

Remedies such as ginkgo biloba and curcumin are used by some people with dementia, but there is no scientific evidence to say these are effective.

Life story work and reminiscence

Life story work and reminiscence can be helpful for people with dementia and involves talking about and looking at a mixture of photos, letters, music, possessions and keepsakes from the past.

Cognitive stimulation therapy (CST)

Designed to help improve memory and problem-solving, this group activity and exercise work can be helpful for those with mild to moderate dementia.

For more information about treatments for dementia, visit Alzheimer’s Research UK.

Dementia research and future treatments

With its Dementia Research Institute (DRI), the UK is leading the way in ground-breaking dementia research. The institute has seven centres hosted in universities across the UK and is tackling dementia from every angle. Find out more by visiting the DRI website here.

Join Dementia Research

Plenty of research and studies are being carried out in the UK into dementia and if you have the condition, and are interested, you can potentially be matched to studies taking place in your area. Visit Dementia Research to sign up for more information.

New drug may reverse dementia

Researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel and UC Berkeley have recently proposed a radical new theory that the memory loss and cognitive dysfunction of aging is due to a leaky barrier between the blood stream and the brain. By using a new drug they have been able to mute the receptor, reversing signs of brain aging and symptoms of dementia in mice. Read more here.

Sign up to use smartphone technology to help dementia research

A smartphone game called GameChanger, which features a series of fun brain games, has been developed by The Alzheimer’s Society alongside the University of Oxford to help researchers understand more about how brains change over time. The technology could help experts drive forward dementia research. Sign up here and play for free for five minutes each day for a month.

" I would like to send my appreciation of the way you looked after my mother for many years. She spoke very highly of you all and looked forward to you all visiting."

Daughter of customer F.K.

Planning ahead with dementia

It can be hard to think ahead when you’re caring for someone with dementia or you have dementia yourself, but there are plenty of practical things you can do now to make life less complicated in the future.

Get help with maintaining key life skills

Keeping going with everyday tasks such as laying the table, shopping and gardening can help you or your family member’s confidence levels.

Seek help managing financial and legal issues

It’s a good idea to make decisions and plans regarding the future while you or your loved one still feel in control. This can help all involved feel more confident and reassured about what lies ahead.

Set up direct debit bill paying

Direct debits are a great way of ensuring you or your loved one is not suddenly cut off if you/they forget to pay a bill. It can be helpful to ensure important documents like bank statements and wills are together in a safe place.

Thinking ahead

It’s not always easy talking and thinking about what might happen in the future, but if you can think about or broach the subject of a will, it is a good idea to discover if it’s up-to-date and reflects you or your loved one’s wishes. A Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) can be set up so that a responsible person can make decisions in the future if need be.

We understand what you’re going through and we’re here to help

Our aim is to give everyone living with dementia a high quality of life in surroundings they know and feel comfortable in. Our care assistants are trained to understand the symptoms of the disease and how best to help their clients handle them and get the most out of life.

You might like to read about Caremark’s award-winning carer training programme here.

Helping to ease the strain on your family, Caremark carers can support with everything from planning everyday routines to keeping up with you or your family member’s social life and hobbies. They can help as little or as much as is needed.

The importance of routine

For people with dementia, orientation and day-to-day memory can be challenging. For this reason, having a routine is even more important than usual. At Caremark, we aim to permanently allocate each of our clients with the same care assistants.

A friendly face

Every day the same friendly face will walk through your or your family member’s doors, enabling them to build a strong relationship based on friendship, needs, likes and dislikes, and personal preferences.

Much needed respite

As the condition progresses, dementia can cause behavioural changes, restlessness and agitation. Repeating questions is another factor which can cause a strain on you or your loved one. Our visits can provide respite for those who need a break from caring. We allow people to relax, in the knowledge that their loved ones are being cared for. You can read more about our respite care services here.

We are committed to improving the lives of those with dementia. We pride ourselves on providing high-quality personalised dementia home care across the country. Click here to read Caremark’s dementia care commitment.

Would you like further information about dementia care?

If you would like more details about our dementia care services, please don’t hesitate to get in touch by filling out the form below. A member of our team from your local Caremark office will be in touch to discuss your needs and guide you through your options.

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