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Memory loss and dementia: conditions

Memory loss comes with ageing; it's an accepted fact of life. For instance, Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) can change memory or other basic body activities, but it won’t disrupt someone’s day to day routine. Not all MCI progresses to dementia, but MCI can increase the chances of a dementia diagnosis.

Dementia is not well understood or easy to accept. Not a disease in itself, dementia (an umbrella term) occurs when there is damage from things like small strokes or genetic conditions that can change the way the brain functions. 

The most common types of dementia are:

Alzheimer’s disease. The exact cause of Alzheimer’s disease is unknown, although some people think it is genetic or genetic related. This form of dementia has an impact primarily on memory, cognitive ability, insight, language and spatial awareness. One of the first noticeable symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease is the loss of short-term memory. Most cases of dementia for people over the age of 65 are associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Between 50% and 70% of dementia cases are linked to Alzheimer’s disease. For more on What is Alzheimer’s disease, visit the Alzheimer’s Society website.

Vascular dementia. Associated with small strokes that restrict blood flow to the brain, vascular dementia also has an impact on memory, speech, language and learning. Approximately 25% of dementia cases are associated with vascular dementia. Visit the Dementia UK site and check out the Vascular dementia page for more information on this specific condition.

Lewy body dementia (or dementia with Lewy bodies). As with Alzheimer’s disease, the cause of Lewy body dementia (or LBD) is not well known or understood. This form of dementia is frequently linked with symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease. Less about memory loss, LBD is more about awareness and the processing of thought—particularly abstract thought. With LBD, there is often a change in physical motor skills and coordination. About 15% of dementia cases are diagnosed as dementia with Lewy bodies. To find out more, read the Dementia with Lewy bodies information sheet, available from the Parkinson’s UK website.

Fronto-temporal dementia (including Pick’s disease). Fronto-temporal dementia (or FTD) is primarily thought to be linked to genetics. It primarily impacts personality and behaviour, although problems with spatial orientation and speech can also appear with FTD. Frequently diagnosed between the ages of 45 to 65, FTD is responsible for 20% of young onset dementia cases. It is the least common type of dementia in older adults. For more information, visit the Young Dementia UK site and go to the Frontotemporal dementias page, where you can download a PDF with even more information on the subject.

For more guidance on memory loss diagnosis and assessment, the NHS offers memory services and clinics. Available throughout the country, these clinics can not only test for signs of dementia, but they can also offer support. Visit the NHS choices section on Getting a dementia diagnosis for more information.

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