Understanding dementia

It is vital that all those who support people with dementia, including nurses, have an understanding of dementia and the impact this condition has on the individual themselves and their families.

In this section of the resource dementia and its impact is considered under the following headings:

What is dementia?

Dementia is a term that is used to describe a collection of symptoms including memory loss, problems with reasoning, perception and communication skills. It also leads to a reduction in a person's abilities and skills in carrying out routine activities such as washing, dressing and cooking.

The most common types of dementia are: Alzheimer's disease, Vascular dementia, Fronto-temporal dementia and Dementia with Lewy bodies. Information is available in a section of the Alzheimer's Society website on types of dementia.

Dementia is a progressive condition, which means the symptoms are likely to get worse over time. The progression will vary from person to person and each will experience dementia in a different way.

For further information see the Open Dementia e-Learning Programme.

Why is it important to know about dementia?

The number of people with dementia is increasing and presents a significant and urgent challenge to health and social care, both in terms of the number of people affected and the associated cost.


For further statistical information see Dementia statistics.

Human rights

Dementia has particular implications for family members or friends who are providing care and are directly affected by the changes that dementia can bring about. However it is important to be aware that with the right help people with dementia can be supported to have a good quality of life and experience a sense of well-being. For further information see supporting people with dementia and supporting carers.

People with dementia and their carers (family members and friends) have the same human rights as every other citizen. However, it is widely recognised that, in addition to the impact of the illness, they face cultural, social and economic barriers to fulfilling these. This includes the right to a proper diagnosis, access to information and support from a range of informed, skilled professionals who are able to provide individualized care.

See the National  Dementia Declaration and the Scottish Charter of Rights which are aimed at protecting the human rights and ensuring equal access to care for people with dementia and their family carers.

Finding out more about dementia  

You can find further information at:

Alzheimer's Disease International (2015) Women and Dementia: A global research overview
The purpose of this report is to understand the main issues affecting women in relation to dementia from an international perspective. The report examines the effect of gender on three specific groups: women living with dementia; women caring for people with dementia in a professional caring role; women undertaking an informal caregiving role for someone with dementia. 

Alzheimer's Disease International: World Alzheimer Report 2014 - Dementia and Risk Reduction: An analysis of protective and modifiable factors
This report critically examines the evidence for the existence of modifiable risk factors for dementia. It focuses on sets of potential modifiable risk factors in four key domains: developmental, psychological and psychosocial, lifestyle and cardiovascular conditions. The report makes recommendations to drive public health campaigns and disease prevention strategies.

Alzheimer's Disease International: World alzheimer report 2013: journey of caring - an analysis of long-term care for dementia
This report reveals that, as the world population ages, the traditional system of “informal” care by family, friends, and community will require much greater support. It finds that globally, 13 per cent of people aged 60 or over require long-term care but between 2010 and 2050, the total number of older people with care needs will nearly treble from 101 to 277 million.

Alzheimer’s Society: About dementia
This section of the Alzheimer’s Society website provides information on the different types of dementia and introduces resources available on the website to support further understanding.

Alzheimer's Society: Factsheets
The factsheets cover a wide range of topics and are organised under headings such as: causes of dementia, progression and drug treatment; emotional and practical support; legal and financial information.

Alzheimer's Society. Dementia 2015: Aiming higher to transform lives
Aiming higher to transform lives is Alzheimer's Society's fourth annual report looking at quality of life for people with dementia in England. It contains the results of their annual survey of people with dementia and their carers, and an assessment of what is currently in place and needs to be done to improve dementia care and support in England over the next five years. See also:

NHS Choices – Dementia
This website provides information on dementia covering: symptoms; causes; diagnosis; treatment; prevention and living with dementia.

Red and Yellow Care. A good life with dementia
This report identifies six ways to live a better life with dementia. By following a simple, six-point plan with the help of their carers, patients can overcome their fear of the disease and “make the most of what is potentially a long, rich and rewarding time of life”. The six tips include avoiding a “one size fits all” approach to the disease and, instead, looking at how to help patients maintain their personal identity. 

SCIE Dementia Gateway: About dementia
This section of the dementia gateway brings together information and resources about the symptoms and causes of dementia and different types of dementia. It includes modules on early stage and later stage dementia.

WHO and Alzheimer's Disease International (2012) Dementia: a public health priority
This report aimed to raise awareness of dementia as a public health priority; to articulate a public health approach; and to advocate for action at international and national levels. 

See also Learning resources.

Raising awareness

Alzheimer's Society: Dementia Friends campaign
Dementia Friends is a national initiative that is being run by the Alzheimer's Society. It is funded by the government, aims to increase dementia awareness and change the way the nation thinks, talks and acts. The drive forms part of the six-month progress report on the Prime Minister's Challenge on Dementia. The Alzheimer's Society is working with volunteers and other organisations to achieve this goal. The initiative aims to create a network of a million Dementia Friends across England by 2015. Visit the Dementia Friends website. Read the latest Dementia Friends newsletter.

iSPACE: 6 Steps to Becoming a Dementia Friendly Practice (Word 582KB)
The Dementia Friendly primary care project, iSPACE, was put into practice as a pilot initiative in April 2014 by Dr Decker at Oakley & Overton Practice, with funds awarded by the Wessex Academic Health Science Network (AHSN). The evidence underpinning this initiative was the RCN Dementia survey of 2,184 professionals, patients and carers in 2011, from which the SPACE principle was developed for use in hospital care. The overall aim of the iSPACE pilot was to improve the patient journey for people with dementia and their carers.

Purple Angel
By supporting Dementia Awareness Day (D.A.D.) and their sponsored charity, the Purple Angel campaign aims to raise awareness and to inspire and empower those who are living with dementia. This year, D.A.D. was celebrated on 21 September 2013. All funds raised throughout the year will be dedicated to Alzheimer's Research UK.