This website is now part of Public Health Scotland. Visit our new website.
Improving health
Previously NHS Health Scotland

Coping with dementia – About dementia

The Coping with Dementia DVD is made up of 7 chapters. This page features ‘About Dementia’ – chapter two of seven and is made up of one short film. 

Please be aware Chapter 7 contains sensitive information about the later stages of dementia and we suggest you only view this chapter when you are ready.

About Dementia (chapter 2 of 7)

Transcript of the About Dementia film

What is dementia?

Dementia is an illness of the brain. The cells in the brain are damaged and die faster than they normally do. Gradually the person loses the ability to do things. Everyday tasks become more and more difficult and their personality may change. However, all this happens very slowly and the illness can last many years.

Though it affects mostly people over 65, it can also sometimes affect those in their 40’s or 50’s. This is called early-onset dementia. Early onset Dementia is quite rare, but is more common in people with Downs syndrome.

Types of dementia

There are a number of different types of Dementia, ranging from common conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease through to relatively rare and unusual conditions such as AIDS related Dementia and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

Alzheimer’s dementia, which tends to present with memory problems and word finding difficulties is the most common cause of Dementia in the UK with well over 50% of all new cases. It’s caused by abnormal accumulation of protein in the brain, which leads to brain cell death, and thus loss of functioning.

The second most common cause of Dementia in the UK is Vascular Dementia where brain cell damage is caused by poor blood supply to the brain cells. The cause of that can range from stroke disease through to progressive narrowing of the blood supply to the brain.

Another cause of Dementia is Lewy Body Dementia where people present with memory problems but also attention and concentration problems, word finding difficulties, planning and sequencing problems, visual hallucination, motor symptoms such as stiffness, slowness, shuffling gait and tremor, and in fact share many features in common with people with Parkinson’s Disease.

Finally another type of Dementia is Frontal Temporal Dementia where the front parts of the brain are damaged and people tend to present with personality change and difficulty with planning and sequencing tasks.

Memory problems are not a normal part of getting older; Dementia is not a normal part of old age, most older people, even into their 80s or 90s are still mentally alert so it is important for people to realise that old age and Dementia are not the same thing.


Drug treatments are now available and, although they are not a cure and do not affect the underlying disease, they may help some people. They work by helping brain cells pass messages between each other so that the person´s brain may work a bit better.

There are also other therapies which may help the person to deal with the effects of the illness.
Speech and language therapy can help with communication and swallowing difficulties; physiotherapy with mobility; a psychologist with things like memory problems and behaviour changes or depression; and counselling can help in coming to terms with the illness.

A person with dementia

For people in the early stages, the booklets "Facing dementia" and "Don´t make the journey alone" may be helpful. Reading the information together with the person may help explain it. Try to make sure that the person is as involved as possible in making decisions that affect them.

As Mum’s illness progressed it got increasingly difficult really, to work out how she might be feeling because she couldn’t find the words. So we learned really, to pay more attention to how she was saying things and what she was doing, the way she was going about things and you could begin to, by just tuning into her, begin to understand how she might be feeling, you know, for example, if she was very anxious sometimes that would affect how she was able to do things, everyday things around the house, like use the telephone, or use her door entry system or the cooker.

Enjoyable activities are important too. Even if someone doesn’t remember what they’ve been doing they will feel good during it and after it. It could be as simple as a smile or a hug, or familiar music. Don’t be tempted to treat the person like a child. They have a whole lifetime of experiences behind them, and an adult’s needs, desires and rights.

How dementia progresses

Dementia is a progressive illness and, with time, the person will find more and more difficulty doing things for themselves and will need more and more help. Physically they may stay quite well for quite a long time although because it’s an illness of old age, of course, so other illnesses can affect them as well. But mentally they’ll need more and more help, their personality may change a great deal and ultimately dementia is actually a fatal illness.

Obviously, all of this is really hard for carers to cope with often, although many carers report finding an ‘inner strength’ and finding a reward in caring for somebody with dementia. The important thing for carers to remember is that there is help and they can get that help to support them in their caring.

  • The person may confuse the time of day or where they are.
  • Get worse at practical skills like cooking or driving.
  • Have difficulty in managing money, property, and health matters.
  • They may have trouble with conversation or repeat questions over and over.
  • They may start needing help to make sure they eat properly, or help with bathing or dressing.
  • Not recognise everyday objects, or family or friends.
  • They may take to being up and about at night.
  • They may get easily upset or angry, or blame other people for things they have forgotten they have done.
  • They may develop continence problems.

Above all, remember you are not alone. Ask for help as early as possible. Start with the Dementia Helpline. They are there to help.

Dementia varies very greatly from person to person depending on the type of the illness and on the person and how it affects them. Early on the changes are likely to be slight – memory problems, perhaps changes in behaviour, for example. Later on the changes get bigger so people might have real trouble with day-to-day activities that they used to be able to do – managing money, making meals for example, or shopping. People might become more withdrawn or frustrated by things. All kinds of changes – it’s different in each person.


back to top

Reviewed 09 March 2018

We use cookies to help improve this website. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Otherwise, we'll assume you're OK to continue. Don't show this message again