What is dementia?

What is dementia?

Dementia is a disorder that affects how the brain works. Symptoms of dementia vary from person to person, but can include:

  • loss of memory

  • difficulty thinking things through and understanding

  • problems with language (reading and writing)

  • confusion

  • agitation and aggression

  • depression and anxiety

  • hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that are not really there) and delusions (believing things that are not real).

Severe symptoms may make it difficult for the person to do usual daily activities or to care for him or herself.

Dementia usually gets worse over time, but treatment can slow this down and may help with some of the symptoms. There are 2 kinds of treatment:

  • treatments that may help with symptoms that affect thinking and memory (cognitive symptoms)

  • treatments that may help with symptoms that affect mood and behaviour (non-cognitive symptoms).

People with dementia who have symptoms that affect behaviour should only be offered medication for this if they are very distressed or are at risk of hurting themselves or someone else. People who have psychosis (hallucinations or delusions) or severe agitation may be offered a type of medicine called an antipsychotic for the short‑term treatment of symptoms. Other medicines may be used occasionally if the antipsychotic doesn't work or causes side effects.

More information about dementia and managing dementia is available in the NICE guideline on supporting people with dementia and their carers.