What is Dementia?
Dementia refers to neurological changes that affect thinking, behavior,
and memory. Alzheimer’s disease is a common form of progressive
dementia that usually affects older adults. Other types of progressive
- Vascular dementia
- Lewy body dementia
- Frontotemporal dementia
- Mixed dementia
Certain other disorders, such as Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s
disease, and traumatic brain injury, have also been linked to dementia.
Dementia may cause a variety of symptoms that can range from mild to severe,
Problems with thinking or remembering, such as:
- Memory loss
- Trouble expressing ideas or finding the right words
- Difficulty with problem-solving or reasoning
- Trouble handling complex or multi-step tasks
- Trouble with coordination, balance, and other motor functions
Psychological or personality changes, such as:
- Inappropriate behavior
Causes and Risk Factors
Dementia occurs when nerve cells and their connections in the brain are
damaged or lost. Some types of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease,
are irreversible and progressive, meaning that the condition is permanent
and gets worse over time.
However, some conditions cause dementia-like symptoms that can sometimes
be reversed with treatment. These conditions include nutritional deficiencies,
infections, immune disorders, side effects from medication, poisoning,
metabolic and endocrine problems, and other neurological conditions such
as a brain tumor.
Dementia is more common in older people. If you have a family history of
dementia, you may be at a higher risk of developing the condition. Although
you can’t prevent dementia, you may be able to lower your risk by
staying mentally, physically, and socially active as you age.
To diagnose dementia, your doctor will review your medical history and
evaluate your symptoms. Your doctor also may perform exams or order tests,
Neurological exams. Neurological exams will differ depending on your age, but adults will
be asked to answer questions and complete simple tasks to test movement,
muscle condition, the function of each of the senses, and general neurological
Cognitive tests. Cognitive tests assess your memory and concentration.
Brain imaging tests. Your doctor may order imaging tests such as magnetic resonance imaging
(MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scans to check for serious injuries
Blood tests. Blood tests can detect problems that may affect brain function.
Lumbar puncture. A lumbar puncture, also called a spinal tap, involves removing a sample
of your cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) from around your spinal cord and testing
it to check for abnormalities.
Mental health evaluation. A psychiatric evaluation can help your doctor to determine whether a mental
health condition, such as depression or anxiety, is contributing to your
Depending on your specific symptoms and condition, your doctor may recommend
treatment with medications to temporarily improve dementia symptoms or
treat co-occurring conditions, such as insomnia or depression. Your doctor
may also recommend occupational therapy, environmental modifications,
or psychiatric care to help people with dementia and their loved ones
cope with symptoms and prepare for the progression of your condition.