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Understanding dementia

The symptoms and issues affecting people with dementia, their carers and families  

If you support people with dementia it is important to have an understanding of the condition and the impact it can have on a patient and their family. Use this page to find out more. 


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 on 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.

Dementia statistics

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.

  • There are approximately 850,000 people with dementia
  • Approximately one in six people over the age of 80 have a form of dementia
  • The number of people with dementia is expected to double within 30 years
  • Whilst dementia is predominantly a condition of later life, there are at least 17,000 people under the age of 65 in the UK who have the illness.

Supporting someone with dementia

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. 

Survey of carers and people with dementia

A survey of people with dementia and carers was carried out in 2011. A range of approaches were identified as important in delivering better care for people with dementia and their families/carers while in hospital. These included education and training of staff; involvement of family carers; skilled assessment, individualised care and availability of a specialist.

Staff understanding and time were the two most frequently mentioned barriers to the delivery of care. To find out more about the survey results, read:

Findings from both surveys of professionals were presented to a range of stakeholders including people with dementia and carers, to develop key messages. These have been used to develop a commitment to improve care for people with dementia in general hospital settings. 

Human rights

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.