It’s estimated that one in 14 people aged over 65 has dementia, and the likelihood of developing it increases significantly with age. In fact, one in six people over 80 live with the condition. It is an unpredictable and progressive disease, with no cure at present. There are unique challenges associated with living with or caring for someone with dementia.
We often think of dementia as being memory loss, but it's much more than this and can affect the way someone speaks, thinks, feels, and behaves.
Dementia is not a natural part of ageing; it's caused by disease damaging parts of the brain. While there aren't cures, there are treatments that can halt or slow the progress of the symptoms, and there's also plenty of support available that helps someone remain active with a fulfilling life.
This guide will help you to understand what dementia is, recognise the symptoms, and direct you to sources of information & support, including the Bank Workers Charity who offer a range of services and help to current and former bank workers (including partners and dependents).
So, let's get stuck in and talk about dementia.
What is dementia?
Dementia is a broad term used to describe a range of progressive conditions that affect the brain, including memory, language, and behaviour.
There are several types of dementia, but each type effectively stops someone's brain from working in specific areas which is why it can present differently over time, progressively getting worse. There can be different causes but what we know is that disease causes damage to the nerve cells within the brain, and this causes the common symptoms which we refer to as dementia.
It’s estimated that one in 14 people aged over 65 has dementia, and the likelihood of developing it increases significantly with age. In fact, one in six people over 80 live with the condition. It is an unpredictable and progressive disease, with no cure at present. Carers and those with dementia can find themselves isolated, frustrated and emotionally exhausted.
But dementia can affect a person at any age, not just those over 65.
There are over two hundred subtypes of dementia. The most common are Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, frontotemporal dementia, and mixed dementia.
The types of dementia
There are over two hundred subtypes of dementia. The most common are Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, frontotemporal dementia and mixed dementia.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia in the UK accounting for around 60% of diagnosis. It’s caused by a build-up of proteins in the brain which damage the brain cells’ ability to transmit messages. There is no cure, but medication is available to help slow its progression, and early diagnosis is key.
The symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease tend to get worse over time. They include:
Vascular dementia is the second most common type of dementia. It’s caused by problems in the supply of blood to the brain, commonly due to strokes or ‘mini strokes’ called Transient ischaemic attack (TIAs). Changes tend to be sudden when someone suffers a stroke or TIA, but the damage may level off rapidly. In cases of larger strokes and TIAs, the damage may become more permeant and the person doesn't return to their same self after time.
Vascular damage can also take place in the smaller vessels of the brain and symptoms may be more gradual.
The symptoms of vascular dementia are often like Alzheimer’s disease, such as memory problems, disorientation, and difficulty with communication. However, symptoms can depend on which area of the brain has been affected and may include specific problems with:
Lewy body dementia is a progressive condition that affects movement and motor control, for example making it difficult for someone to dress or feed themselves. Memory is often less affected than with other types of dementia.
A person with dementia with Lewy bodies might:
Frontotemporal dementia affects the frontal lobes of the brain which controls things like behaviour, learning, and personality. While it can affect people of all ages, it is more common to affect people aged 45 to 65 years than those aged 65 and over.
Frontotemporal dementia can be difficult to diagnose. It’s sometimes confused with depression, stress, anxiety, psychosis, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). It is however often characterised by inappropriate social behaviour and a lack of inhibitions. Eating patterns can also be affected, with people suddenly bingeing on food, especially sweet foods.
Recognising the signs of a problem
There are range of symptoms which relate to the several types of dementia, but they fall under three broad areas: memory, language, and behaviours changes.
As with any other medical conditions, symptoms indicate that something is wrong, and it's important to talk about and recognise the symptoms. Early diagnosis and intervention can help slow or halt progress of the disease.
There are other treatable conditions which can present similar symptoms, so it's important not to jump to conclusions and to rule out other conditions first. These include infections, thyroid or circulatory issues, vitamin deficiency, sleep apnoea, stress, and depression. Many women going through the menopause may also feel they're getting dementia because of the effects of the menopause. Check out our separate guidance on menopause.
Make an appointment with your GP to discuss your symptoms. They'll ask questions to understand person’s medical and family history and about concentration, short-term memory, mood, and behaviour changes. To rule our other conditions, they may order several tests including blood tests, an MRI or CT scan to examine the structure of the brain, and/or a chest X-ray to check for any chest conditions.
They may also refer the person to a memory service/clinic, or to a specialist for further investigation, assessment, and possible treatment. Some treatments may be able to halt or slow down the progression of the disease. There are many people living with dementia that continue to have long, active and fulfilling lives, and that's why early diagnosis and intervention is key.
Dementia UK have a wealth of information, including about getting a diagnosis.
Talking about dementia
If someone you know is becoming increasingly forgetful, or you're noticing changes to their personality and behaviours, encourage them to see a GP. It may not be dementia and may be symptoms of other health conditions such as menopause, infections or stress and depression, but remember that symptoms are a sign that something is wrong.
It's especially difficult to watch parents age, and to find the right words to approach a conversation early about the signs of dementia. Having tough conversations can lead to earlier diagnosis and help everyone cope with the changes that may lie ahead. Having tough conversations doesn't mean having an argument, or being forceful, so how do you approach this kind of difficult conversation to get the best from it? We've got some tips to help you
The NHS dementia guide has some useful information on what to do if you're worried that someone has dementia, including more on how to approach the conversation and other external support.
Recognising your role as a carer
There's often a myth around being a carer that if a loved one needs care it's just part of your relationship - therefore, you're not a carer, you're just fulfilling part of what's included in that relationship. It's not to say that this is untrue, but there are additional benefits from recognising your role as a carer.
Embracing the label of carer opens pathways to support, and helps you recognise your own needs easier. It takes people on average two years to recognise their care giving, meaning they're missing support for both the person they're caring for, but also for their own needs.
A carer may be someone who helps with:
There is no shame in recognising your role as a carer, but there can be cultural barriers and expectations that make it more difficult to recognise a care giving role. Shame can often take the form of feeling guilty that you're not being a good member of the family, and not caring enough.
Reducing your risk of dementia
Research on dementia is constantly evolving, but some recent studies have suggested that there are some lifestyle choices that can help prevent or delay the onset of dementia and slow some of the more progressive and debilitating symptoms.
Some lifestyle factors include:
Remember that dementia is because of disease effecting areas of the brain. The more we do to keep ourselves active, health, and mentally well, can all reduce our risk factors of developing diseases that are known to contribute to dementia.
This guide from the Bank Workers Charity highlights the support and services available. It is aimed at people living with dementia and families or carers.
This guide provides an introduction to dementia, including advice on reducing the risk or slowing the progression of the condition, and lots of useful tips.
How the Bank Workers Charity have helped others
Sophia lives with her partner Mia who was diagnosed with dementia. Sophia worked full time of a bank as well as supporting Mia by preparing her meals, administering medication and providing general care. As the condition progressed, Mia was requiring more care and it was putting a strain on the relationship. Mia often becomes frustrated and agitated and supporting her was leaving Sophia exhausted and a bit numb with waves of grief. In a discussion with her manager, they explored reducing her hours and it was suggested she contacted the Bank Workers Charity.
When Sophia contacted through live chat on their website, the booked in an appointment. At the appointment, the caseworker let Sophia talk at her own pace, listening to what she had to say. With the support of the BWC case worker, Sophia was supported by:
Support & contacts
There are many sources of support available to you, we'll start with general support:
And remember, if you’re an Accord member and need a chat about support at work, call the helpline on 0118 934 1808.
Find more mental health related articles on our website.
Getting a needs assessment
During the initial stages of dementia, there are usually no or few barriers that prevent someone from remaining in their normal home and continuing to care for themselves normally. As the illness progresses, it may become increasingly difficult without additional support being in place.
At this point, it’s recommended that a needs assessment is carried out by the local council's adult social services. It comprises of answering questions about health, lifestyle, and the progression of the condition, to help identify what caring needs exist and how these should be met with support. Some examples include:
There is help available from organisations such as Age UK or Citizens Advice in completing a needs assessment. There's lots of information on the NHS website relating to getting a needs assessment. And Carers UK have a downloadable factsheet available.
Wellbeing of the cared for & care giver
It's important to look after the wellbeing of yourself as a carer as well as the wellbeing of the person you're caring for.
Accessing financial support
In cases when equipment or adaptations are not able to be provided by social services, the local authority or other organisations may be able to supply a grant or other form of assistance. Some of the main types of support available are outlined below.
Disabled Facilities Grants are managed by your local authority and can help towards the cost of adapting a home. An application form should be available from the grants department of your local authority offices.
Some people may qualify for a budgeting loan from the Social Fund to help with the cost of minor repairs or improvements to their home. Typical eligibility criteria include those in receipt of:
More information about the Social Fund, including eligibility criteria and how to apply, is available at local Jobcentre Plus offices or online.
We teamed up with the Bank Workers Charity for a webinar to talk dementia, the unique challenges of the disease, and what support is available for you.
The resource centre provides practical resources and downloadable content for people who are responsible for the health and wellbeing of bank employees.