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Dementia care: What happens in the brain?

Updated Wednesday, 8th April 2015
Dementia is an umbrella term for a range of different disorders that affect the brain- get the low down on the various types here. 

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In scene 1 of Louise's story, Louise is diagnosed with dementia, the umbrella term for various diseases affecting the brain and the way it functions.

There are many different types of dementia, while they might share common features, they are all distinct. Some types of dementia, such as Korsakoff’s syndrome, are secondary to the effects of alcohol – while others currently have no known cause. Some forms of dementia progress more rapidly than others: for example, CJD can lead to a rapid death within months. People can be affected by more than one type of dementia. Further, different types of dementia are likely to affect different age groups. Many people are not aware of the range of types of dementia and how they produced different symptoms. See an outline of the different types here:

The different types of dementia

Alzheimer’s disease

What happens in the brain?

A brain affected by Alzheimer's disease A brain affected by Alzheimer's disease Protein ‘plaques’ and ‘tangles’ develop in brain cells, which lead them to die. Also caused by shortage of important chemicals involved with transmission of messages.

What are the symptoms?

  • Memory loss or impairment, for names of people, places, appointments
  • Mood swings, feeling sad, angry, scared or frustrated by memory loss
  • Become withdrawn because of loss in confidence or communication problems

Vascular/multi-infarct dementia

What happens in the brain?

Blood vessels delivering blood to the brain are damaged, so blood cannot reach the brain cells which eventually die.

​What are the symptoms?

  • Problems with speed of thinking, concentration and communication
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Symptoms of stroke such as physical weakness or paralysis

Dementia with Lewy bodies

What happens in the brain?

Tiny, spherical protein deposits (Lewy bodies) develop inside nerve cells in the brain and interrupt the action of chemical messengers including acetylcholine and dopamine.

​What are the symptoms?

  • Problems with attention and alertness
  • Spatial disorientation and problems with planning ahead
  • Slowness, muscle stiffness, trembling

Fronto-temporal dementia

What happens in the brain?

Frontal and/or temporal lobes are damaged.

​What are the symptoms?

  • Changes to personality and behaviour; lose ability to empathise
  • Become extrovert when previously introverted, or withdrawn when previously outgoing
  • Inappropriate behaviour

Posterior corticol atrophy (PCA)

What happens in the brain?

Back (posterior) region of brain is damaged.

​What are the symptoms?

  • Problems with vision, e.g. recognising faces and objects in pictures
  • Problems with literacy and numeracy
  • Confusion

Korsakoff’s syndrome

What happens in the brain?

Small areas in the mid part of the brain are damaged.

​What are the symptoms?

  • Memory loss
  • Difficulty in acquiring new information or learning new skills
  • Change in personality

Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD)

What happens in the brain?

Caused by a prion, an infectious protein in the brain

​What are the symptoms?

  • Minor lapses in memory
  • Mood changes, loss of interest
  • Clumsiness and feeling muddled

This podcast or article is part of the Dementia care: Louise's story collection and has been produced to give an account of what dementia care is like for the individual, the family and health and social care professionals. 

As an extension of the podcasts, articles and also your own personal experiences, you may like to have your say in our Dementia care discussion forum and hear other users' opinions on the everyday issues that occur with caring for someone with dementia.



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