3.2. Describe the likely signs and symptoms of the most common causes of dementia

3.2. Describe the likely signs and symptoms of the most common causes of dementia

Dementia Awareness

Care Learning

5 mins READ

This guide will help you answer the NCFE CACHE Level 2 Award in Awareness of Dementia Unit 3.2. Describe the likely signs and symptoms of the most common causes of dementia.

Dementia is a broad term used to describe a range of symptoms associated with the decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person’s ability to perform everyday activities. Several conditions cause dementia, each with its own particular signs and symptoms. Understanding these distinct signs and symptoms is crucial for early detection and appropriate care. Let’s explore these elements for the most common causes of dementia.

Alzheimer’s Disease

Memory Loss

Memory loss is often the earliest and most prominent symptom. Individuals may forget recent events or conversations more often and ask for the same information repeatedly.


People with Alzheimer’s may become lost in familiar places and have difficulty understanding what time it is or what day it is.

Difficulty with Planning and Performing Tasks

There may be noticeable challenges in planning tasks or solving problems. This can include trouble following a recipe, managing a budget, or remembering the steps to complete a familiar job.

Language Problems

Individuals might struggle to find the right words, follow conversations, or name common objects.

Changes in Mood and Behaviour

Sudden changes in mood, such as becoming easily upset in new situations, can occur. Apathy, depression, social withdrawal, and changes in personality are also common.

Vascular Dementia

Sudden Onset

Symptoms may begin suddenly following a stroke or gradually as a result of multiple smaller strokes.

Impaired Judgement and Planning

There are often difficulties with decision-making, organisation, and structured thinking.

Problems with Attention and Concentration

Individuals may struggle to concentrate and maintain focus on tasks or conversations.

Decline in Physical Abilities

Unlike Alzheimer’s, vascular dementia might cause physical weakness or numbness, particularly on one side of the body, resembling the symptoms of a stroke.

Mood Change

Depression and apathy can be prevalent, sometimes more so than in Alzheimer’s.

Lewy Body Dementia

Cognitive Fluctuations

People with Lewy Body Dementia (LBD) often experience pronounced variations in attention and alertness.

Visual Hallucinations

They may see things that aren’t there, such as people, objects, or patterns of light, which are typically detailed and complex.

Movement Problems

Movement symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease, like stiffness, tremors, and shuffling gait, can occur.

Sleep Disturbances

REM sleep behaviour disorder is common, causing individuals to act out dreams physically.

Autonomic Dysfunction

Individuals might experience changes in blood pressure, heart rate, sweating, and digestive processes due to autonomic nervous system problems.

Frontotemporal Dementia

Behavioural Changes

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) often leads to significant changes in personality and behaviour. It might cause impulsive actions, inappropriate social conduct, and a lack of empathy.

Language Problems

Language impairments are common, such as difficulty in speaking or understanding spoken and written language.

Motor Problems

Although less common than in other dementias, movement disorders resembling those seen in Parkinson’s disease can occur.

Emotional Changes

Emotional blunting or excessive emotional responses can appear, markedly different from the person’s previous behaviour.

Mixed Dementia

Combination of Symptoms

Mixed dementia involves combinations of symptoms from more than one type of dementia, usually Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia. Signs can include a blend of cognitive decline, memory impairment, disorientation, and physical motor problems.

Other Less Common Causes

Parkinson’s Disease Dementia

Signs are initially similar to Lewy body dementia, including movement issues, cognitive problems, and hallucinations, but with a clear progression from Parkinson’s symptoms.

Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease

This rare condition leads to rapid brain deterioration, causing memory issues, behavioural changes, and a quick decline in cognitive function, often accompanied by severe physical symptoms like muscle stiffness and jerking.

Huntington’s Disease

An inherited condition that causes progressive breakdown of nerve cells in the brain. Symptoms include uncontrolled movements, emotional problems, and loss of thinking ability.

Progression of Symptoms

Early Stage

In the early stages, changes are subtle. Symptoms are often mistaken for normal ageing and include mild memory loss, difficulty finding words, or experiencing apathy.

Middle Stage

Symptoms become more noticeable. Individuals may show increased confusion, difficulty recognising family and friends, and a need for help with daily activities.

Late Stage

Severe symptoms manifest in the late stages, including profound memory loss, inability to communicate, and total dependence on caregivers. Physical symptoms like difficulty swallowing can also appear.

Example answers for unit 3.2. Describe the likely signs and symptoms of the most common causes of dementia

Here are example answers that care workers might write for the same unit:

Example Answer 1: Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common cause of dementia. The first sign is usually memory loss. Mrs Smith, whom I care for, often forgets recent conversations and events. She asks me the same questions repeatedly. She also has trouble planning her day and tends to get confused about the time and place. Another sign I’ve noticed is her difficulty finding the right words during conversations. She gets frustrated when she can’t name everyday items, like “kettle” or “keys.” Lastly, there are changes in her mood and behaviour. She often feels sad and withdraws from social activities she once enjoyed.

Example Answer 2: Vascular Dementia

In vascular dementia, symptoms can appear suddenly. Mr Brown had a stroke, and now he has trouble with decision-making and planning. For instance, he struggles with simple tasks like managing his medication schedule or grocery shopping. His attention span has significantly decreased; he finds it hard to focus on conversations or tasks for long periods. Unlike Alzheimer’s, he experiences physical symptoms like weakness on one side of his body. He also shows signs of depression and loses interest in activities he used to love.

Example Answer 3: Lewy Body Dementia

People with Lewy Body Dementia often have fluctuating attention and alertness. Mrs Thompson’s cognitive state changes from one moment to another; sometimes she’s very alert and other times very drowsy. She also experiences visual hallucinations, seeing people or objects that aren’t there. Movement issues are another symptom; she has a shuffling walk and stiff movements similar to Parkinson’s disease. Moreover, she has trouble sleeping and acts out her dreams physically. Her autonomic functions are affected too, causing unpredictable changes in her blood pressure and heart rate.

Example Answer 4: Frontotemporal Dementia

Frontotemporal Dementia primarily affects behaviour and language. Mr Edwards, one of our residents, exhibits significant behavioural changes. He acts impulsively and sometimes behaves inappropriately in social settings. He also has difficulty speaking and understanding language, which makes communication challenging. Although less common, some physical symptoms are present, with him showing motor difficulties similar to Parkinson’s disease. I’ve noticed emotional blunting in him as well; he doesn’t show much emotional response to situations around him.

Example Answer 5: Mixed Dementia

Mixed dementia commonly involves symptoms of both Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia. Mrs Davis exhibits signs of cognitive decline, such as confusion and memory loss. She mixes up the days and frequently forgets recent events. This is coupled with physical symptoms of vascular dementia, like slight numbness in her limbs. She has problems with planning and organising her daily activities and often feels depressed and apathetic. The combination of symptoms from both types of dementia makes her condition quite complex to manage.

Example Answer 6: Parkinson’s Disease Dementia

Parkinson’s Disease Dementia begins with movement issues typical of Parkinson’s, like tremors and stiffness. Over time, Mr Wilson started showing cognitive problems. He became forgetful and had trouble following conversations. Hallucinations are another symptom; he sometimes sees things that aren’t there. As his condition progressed, the cognitive issues became more pronounced. He also exhibits changes in mood, often feeling depressed and anxious, making it vital to provide emotional support alongside physical care.

These example answers reflect how care workers might describe the signs and symptoms of the most common causes of dementia based on their observations and interactions with clients.


Understanding the signs and symptoms of dementia’s most common causes helps in early detection, treatment, and care. Each type has unique characteristics but often shares commonalities such as memory loss and cognitive decline. Care workers, families, and healthcare providers must work together to support individuals with dementia, ensuring their dignity, quality of life, and comfort.

This detailed explanation encapsulates the different signs and symptoms associated with the various types of dementia, providing a comprehensive understanding needed for your role in health and social care.

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