What is dementia?

Dementia is an umbrella term for a range of progressive conditions that affect the brain. There are over 200 subtypes of dementia, but the five most common are:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • vascular dementia
  • dementia with Lewy bodies
  • frontotemporal dementia
  • mixed dementia

The brain is made up of nerve cells (neurones) that communicate with each other by sending messages. Dementia damages the nerve cells in the brain so messages can’t be sent from and to the brain effectively, which prevents the body from functioning normally.

Regardless of which type of dementia is diagnosed and what part of the brain is affected, each person will experience dementia in their own unique way.

Common symptoms of dementia

Memory problems

People with dementia might have problems retaining new information. They might get lost in previously familiar places and may struggle with names. Relatives might notice the person seems increasingly forgetful, misplacing things regularly.

Cognitive ability (processing information)

People with dementia may have difficulty with time and place, for example, getting up in the middle of the night to go to work, even though they’re retired. Also their concentration could be affected. There may be a difficulty when shopping with choosing the items and then paying for them. For some people the ability to reason and make decisions may also be affected. Some may get a sense of restlessness and prefer to keep moving than sit still; others may be reluctant to take part in activities they used to enjoy.


People with dementia may repeat themselves often or have difficulty finding the right words. Reading and writing might become challenging. They might experience changes in personality and behaviour, mood swings, anxiety and depression. They can lose interest in seeing others socially. Following and engaging in conversation can be difficult and tiring, and so a formerly outgoing person might become quieter and more introverted. Their self-confidence might also be affected.

How widespread is dementia?

Dementia can affect a person at any age but it is more commonly diagnosed in people over the age of 65 years. A person developing dementia before age 65 is said to have young onset dementia.

There are estimated to be between 10,000 and 11,000 people living with dementia in North Wales and over 1,500 of those people live in Denbighshire.

As people live longer, it is estimated that the number of cases of dementia will increase as age is the biggest known risk factor. By 2030 the number of people living with dementia in North Wales is expected to almost double.

However, around 5% of people living with dementia are aged under 65.

Reduce your risk of getting dementia

The risk of dementia increases with age, and as more people are living longer, the number of people developing dementia will grow. However, it’s never too early or late to start following the 6 steps to reduce your risk of dementia. By taking these steps, you can significantly improve both your physical and mental health as you age.

Welsh Government has published a booklet (external website) suggesting six steps to follow that will not only make you feel better and reduce your risk of developing dementia, but will also help protect you from other health risks such as cancer, heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

  1. be physically active
  2. maintain a healthy weight
  3. be socially and mentally active
  4. avoid drinking too much alcohol
  5. stop smoking
  6. commit to review your health

Small changes to your lifestyle can over time, lead to big changes in your health.

Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB)

See RNIB: dementia and sight loss: promoting good eye health (external website).