What is dementia?: Signs, symptoms

Many people may be wondering about the signs and symptoms of dementia, a condition seen most often in older people.

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According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “Dementia is a general term for loss of memory, language, problem-solving and other thinking abilities that are severe enough to interfere with daily life.”

According to the National Institute on Aging, about a third of people 85 or older have a form of dementia.

Alzheimer’s is a cause of dementia and is the most common, according to the group.

Forms of dementia

Dementia has several forms:

  • Alzheimer’s
  • Vascular
  • Lewy body
  • Frontotemporal
  • Other types, including Huntington’s
  • Mixed, or when there are several types that are affecting a single person

What it is not

Dementia is not “senility” or “senile dementia” or a normal part of aging, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Signs and symptoms

The signs and symptoms can be different from person to person but include problems remembering, including not being able to:

  • Recall things from short-term memory.
  • Keep track of a purse or wallet.
  • Pay bills.
  • Plan and prepare meals.
  • Remember appointments.
  • Travel from the neighborhood.
  • Communicate.
  • Stay connected with normal activities or interests.
  • Tell the difference between reality or hallucinations or delusions.

The symptoms are progressive, meaning they get worse over time.

They start with the mildest stage or just begin to affect a person’s day-to-day activities, but can progress to the point when the person cannot care for or even feed themselves, according to the National Institute on Aging.

Causes and diagnosis

Damage to the brain’s cells is the cause of dementia and it is that damage that prevents the cells from communicating with each other, the Alzheimer’s Association said.

Different types of dementia are associated with different parts of the brain. Alzheimer’s affects the hippocampus and memory loss is one of the earliest symptoms.

There is no one test to diagnose dementia. A patient suspected of having the condition will undergo a review of their medical history, a physical exam, lab tests and an examination of thinking, function and behavior.

Doctors will also look at family history and conduct brain scans, according to the National Institute on Aging.

Some of the conditions overlap, so doctors diagnose dementia without a specific type. Patients must then see a specialist for a more concrete diagnosis.

Treatment and care

There is no cure for most progressive dementia, but there are two drugs that are showing hope for patients with early Alzheimer’s. Others can slow the progression. There are also some non-drug therapies, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

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