What is dementia?

Choose a question to find out more about dementia.

Why do simple things become difficult for people with dementia?

When you were a baby, you didn’t know how to walk, talk, play, eat or go to the toilet. You had to learn these things. As you grow, you keep learning new things every day. All this learning is stored in your brain. Your brain also helps you to put together all the steps you learnt in the right order so you don’t get confused.

A healthy brain is so good at remembering, thinking and solving problems that you don’t even notice it working. Tasks that you’ve practised many times start to seem simple. But even simple tasks use our brain in many different ways. Think about all the different steps involved in getting yourself a glass of water.

When a person has dementia, their brain starts to forget the things they have learned or have difficulty putting them in the right order. At first people might forget words or names. They might forget what they’ve just said, or where they put something or get confused when they’re trying to do things. Sometimes people with dementia can lose interest in activities they used to enjoy, and so are less likely to even try them.

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As the illness affects more of their brain, a person with dementia starts to forget bigger things. They might not recognise what objects are or what they’re used for. They might have trouble with one or more of the steps needed to complete a task. They might get half way through one thing, and start something else instead. Things that used to be easy become very difficult.

"The brain is like a jigsaw. As the disease progresses the jigsaw breaks up and pieces can be lost forever."

Joshua

Over time, everything they have learned since they were babies might disappear from their memory. They may find it really difficult to do things like getting dressed, washing, eating or going to the toilet. They might not know where they are, and get lost easily. They may have trouble keeping themselves safe. They need even more help and support from other people.

This information was updated in December 2017 and is due for review in December 2019. Please contact us if you would like a version with references.