Gary Lineker to get tested for dementia - what are the signs and symptoms?

Laura Hampson
·6 min read
Gary Lineker at The Olivier Awards in London in 2018 (Getty)
Gary Lineker (Getty)

Gary Lineker has revealed he will be tested for dementia.

The 60-year-old former England footballer made the announcement following research from 2019 that suggests ex-footballers are 3.5 times more likely to die from dementia compared to the general population due to "repetitive heading or collisions".

The Match of the Day host added that he has had “conversations” with his fellow BBC Sport colleagues and former England footballers, Alan Shearer and Ian Wright about the “worry” that dementia may affect them.

“The odds suggest that it probably will,” Lineker added.

“I have regular health checks, including the brain. So far everything is OK. I’ll have my tri-annual test this summer and ask if there’s anything they can establish around the brain, because I don’t see how, given the circumstances, any footballer wouldn’t be worried about it.”

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According to the latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) data, as of 2019 dementia and Alzheimer's disease is the leading cause of death in England and Wales, accounting for 12.5% of all deaths registered.

The highest number of deaths registered in 2019 due to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease were among those aged between 85 and 89 years old and the ONS estimated that the number of dementia-related deaths in care homes rose to 65.1%.

Although there is currently no cure for dementia, according to the NHS: "an early diagnosis means its progress can be slowed down in some cases, so the person may be able to maintain their mental function for longer."

But Dementia UK's director of clinical services Paul Edwards tells Yahoo UK: “There is still so much misunderstanding about dementia; families facing the condition feel left in the dark and often don’t know the signs and symptoms to watch out for."

The NHS says that many people with dementia are able to live active and fulfilling lives. (posed by models, Getty)
The NHS says that many people with dementia are able to live active and fulfilling lives. (posed by models, Getty)

According to the Alzheimer’s Society, 850,000 people are currently living with dementia in the UK and this is projected to rise to 1.6 million by 2040. This is thought to be largely because we are living longer.

The charity adds that one in six people over 80 have dementia and estimates that a further 42,000 people in the UK have young onset dementia, which affects people under the age of 65.

What is dementia?

According to Dementia UK: “Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of progressive neurological disorders, that is, conditions affecting the brain. There are over 200 subtypes of dementia, but the five most common are: Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies, frontotemporal dementia and mixed dementia.”

What causes dementia?

Dementia is a condition that damages the nerve cells in the brain, so that messages can’t be sent to and from the brain effectively and this prevents the body from functioning as it usually would.

“Regardless of which type of dementia is diagnosed and what part of the brain is affected, each person will experience dementia in their own unique way,” states Dementia UK.

What are the signs and symptoms of dementia?

The main symptoms of dementia the NHS recommends looking out for include:

  • Memory loss, like remembering past events more easily than recent ones

  • Problems thinking or reasoning

  • Finding it hard to keep up with conversations or TV shows

  • Feeling anxious, depressed or angry about memory loss

  • Feeling confused even when in a familiar environment

Other symptoms include finding it hard to carry out familiar daily tasks and being confused about time and place.

The NHS adds that these symptoms can often be very mild and may get worse gradually.

“You might not notice these symptoms if you have them, and family and friends may not notice or take them seriously for some time. In some people, these symptoms will remain the same and not worsen,” the NHS continues.

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It emphasises that dementia is “not a natural part of ageing” and if you do notice any of these symptoms, it’s best to speak to a GP sooner rather than later.

Edwards adds: "The signs and symptoms of dementia may include problems following normal routines, with the individual feeling confused about something that used to be second nature to them - cooking for example.

“There can also be communication difficulties, whether that’s mixing people’s names up repeatedly, not recognising them or even difficulties keeping up with conversations.

"Changes in behaviour or personality may be noticed too. For example, a loved one may become more irritable or withdrawn than usual, saying or doing socially inappropriate things. 

"In addition, family and friends may notice a change in mood, with depression, anxiety, or tearfulness being common feelings amongst people with dementia.”

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What should you do if you think you have dementia?

If you have any of the signs mentioned above, the first thing to do is to book an appointment with your GP.

The NHS explains: “A diagnosis helps people with dementia get the right treatment and support. It can also help them, and the people close to them, to prepare for the future.”

The NHS recommends bringing a trusted companion with you to your GP appointment so that they can describe any changes they may have noticed.

If your dementia is mild, you may be referred to a dementia specialist who can arrange more tests and who will be able to answer any questions you may have.

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Edwards adds: “It’s imperative to get specialist dementia care and advice early on, so that if dementia is the root cause, families can then plan for the future.

"Similarly, a dementia specialist can point you to another healthcare professional, such as a GP, who would be able to treat other conditions like depression, infections or nutritional deficiencies.”

What should you do if you think a family member has dementia?

If you are worried that a friend or family member could have dementia, the best thing to do is to encourage them to make an appointment with a GP and suggest going with them.

“The person may be feeling frightened of getting a diagnosis and may think that they will lose their independence or have to go into care. In some cases, they may not understand that there are concerns about their memory or behaviour and deny they have a problem,” Dementia UK says.

“It is important to reassure the person that their symptoms may be due to another potentially treatable condition. This could mean they become more willing to visit the GP. If the person simply refuses to go to the GP, you can contact the surgery to explain the situation, either by phone, letter or email. The GP may be able to provide a home visit to speak to the person about their symptoms.”

It’s also important to emphasise that many people with dementia are able to live active and fulfilling lives with the help of friends, family and healthcare professionals.

To find out more, visit nhs.uk/dementia or call Dementia UK's Admiral Nurse Dementia Helpline on 0800 888 6678.

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