What is dementia? TV newsreader Alastair Stewart to launch Common charity walk after diagnosis

TV veteran Alastair Stewart revealed he was diagnosed with early-onset vascular dementia in September 2023  (PA Archive)
TV veteran Alastair Stewart revealed he was diagnosed with early-onset vascular dementia in September 2023 (PA Archive)

TV newsreader Alastair Stewart will start a charity walk on Southampton Common, close to his Hampshire home, after his dementia diagnosis.

Stewart, 71, revealed he was diagnosed with early-onset vascular dementia in September 2023.

He is encouraging people to take part in the fundraising series Alzheimer's Research UK's Walk For A Cure campaign this summer.

Walk For A Cure will be taking place at six locations throughout the UK, including Southampton Common on Sunday, June 30.

The series aims to gather families impacted by dementia, alongside the researchers and scientists trying to fund a cure for the condition.

Stewart has previously spoken about the effect dementia has had on him and his family.

He said: “I am delighted that Alzheimer’s Research UK’s Walk For A Cure event is coming to Southampton in June, a location near to me, and I’m very much hoping to attend to set everyone off on their walk.

“It is more important than ever that we come together and support the search for a cure for dementia. We need to do everything we can to put a stop to the heartbreak it causes.

“Join me in supporting Alzheimer’s Research UK this summer by heading along to a Walk For A Cure near you.”

The Walk For A Cure series has doubled in size this year, following its launch in 2023. The event will be family-friendly, dementia-friendly and accessible to all.

So what is dementia and what are its symptoms and causes?

What is dementia?

Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a set of symptoms affecting memory, thinking, and social abilities severely enough to interfere with daily functioning.

It's not a specific disease, but a group of conditions characterised by cognitive decline. Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause, contributing to about 60-70 per cent of cases. Other types include vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, frontotemporal dementia, and mixed dementia.

What are the symptoms of dementia?

Here are common symptoms of dementia:

  • Memory loss: Forgetfulness that affects daily functioning, such as forgetting recent events or repeatedly asking the same questions.

  • Difficulty with communication and language: Struggling to find the right words, following or participating in conversations, or understanding speech.

  • Impaired judgment: Difficulty making decisions, reasoning, or problem-solving.

  • Confusion: Disorientation in time, place, or situation, leading to feelings of being lost or bewildered.

  • Personality changes: Mood swings, irritability, agitation, or withdrawal from social activities.

  • Difficulty completing familiar tasks: Struggling with tasks that used to be routine, such as cooking, managing finances, or driving.

  • Problems with visual perception: Difficulty recognizing objects or faces, judging distances, or interpreting visual information.

  • Misplacing items: Putting things in unusual places and being unable to retrace steps to find them.

  • Changes in behaviour and personality: Becoming more passive or aggressive, exhibiting socially inappropriate behaviors, or losing interest in hobbies or activities.

  • Decreased or poor judgment: Making decisions that are not in keeping with usual behaviour, such as giving large sums of money to telemarketers or falling for scams.

These symptoms can vary depending on the type and stage of dementia and may worsen over time. Consult a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate management.

What causes dementia?

Dementia can be caused by various diseases and conditions that result in progressive damage to brain cells and their connections. Some common causes include:

  • Alzheimer's disease: This is the most common cause of dementia, characterised by the accumulation of abnormal protein deposits (amyloid plaques and tau tangles) in the brain, leading to the death of nerve cells.

  • Vascular dementia: Caused by reduced blood flow to the brain due to conditions such as stroke, small vessel disease, or other vascular issues, resulting in damage to brain tissue.

  • Lewy body dementia: Characterised by abnormal protein deposits called Lewy bodies in the brain, leading to cognitive decline, movement problems, and visual hallucinations.

  • Frontotemporal dementia: Involves damage to the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain, leading to changes in personality, behaviour, and language abilities.

  • Mixed dementia: When more than one type of dementia is present, such as Alzheimer's disease combined with vascular dementia.

  • Other causes: Dementia can also result from conditions such as Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, traumatic brain injury, chronic alcoholism, or certain infections.

Genetics, age, lifestyle factors (such as diet, exercise, and smoking), and environmental factors can also influence the risk of developing dementia. Each type of dementia has its specific underlying causes and risk factors.

How do you diagnose dementia?

There is no one test to determine if someone has dementia. Your GP will take into account several factors as dementia can be different for any one person, and undertake a memory test. They may then recommend a referral to a specialist. If you are concerned, visit the Next Steps website. When you see a specialist, you will undertake further memory tests and may undergo a brain scan.

Is there a cure for dementia?

There is no cure for dementia. The NHS says a single cure is unlikely because different conditions cause it.

Research is aimed at finding cures for dementia-causing diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, frontotemporal dementia, and dementia with Lewy bodies, according to the NHS website. This also lists research areas, such as immunotherapy, stem-call, and gene-based therapies.

However, a healthy diet, exercise, and giving up smoking can all lower your risk of developing the condition. The NHS website lists other ways you can reduce your risk.

Where can I find out more about dementia?

Several organisations and charities can help.

The Alzheimer’s Society offers support for those diagnosed and their families. The NHS also has a help page.