What is dementia?
Dementia is a brain problem that makes it hard to remember, think, and learn. Most dementia begins little by little and starts after age 65.
It’s normal for the brain to change with age, but dementia isn't a normal part of getting older
Symptoms usually start with forgetting recent events and getting lost easily
Symptoms get worse over the next 2 to 10 years to the point where help is needed with daily tasks, such as eating and walking
Doctors will try to slow memory loss as long as possible and help keep the person with dementia safe
What causes dementia?
Dementia is a brain disorder. It may have no specific cause, or it may be caused by many disorders.
Most dementia in older people is caused by
Other brain problems that can cause dementia include:
Blocked blood vessels in the brain (as from a stroke Stroke A stroke is a sudden brain problem that happens when a blood vessel in your brain either gets blocked or breaks open and bleeds. As with all organs in the body, the brain needs oxygen and nutrients... read more or hardening of the arteries Atherosclerosis In people with atherosclerosis, patchy deposits of fatty material (atheromas or atherosclerotic plaques) develop in the walls of medium-sized and large arteries, leading to reduced or blocked... read more )
Disorders that damage brain cells, for example, Parkinson disease Parkinson Disease (PD) Parkinson disease is a brain disease that causes you to slowly lose control of your movements. It can cause shaking (tremors), stiff muscles, slow movements, and problems with your balance.... read more and dementia with Lewy bodies Dementia With Lewy Bodies and Parkinson Disease Dementia Dementia with Lewy bodies is progressive loss of mental function characterized by the development of Lewy bodies in nerve cells. Parkinson disease dementia is loss of mental function characterized... read more
Brain damage from a head injury Overview of Head Injuries Head injuries that involve the brain are particularly concerning. Common causes of head injuries include falls, motor vehicle crashes, assaults, and mishaps during sports and recreational activities... read more that causes a type of dementia called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is the breakdown of brain cells over time. It's caused by repeated head injury or blasts from explosions. Head injuries include concussions. Doctors aren't... read more
Some things can make dementia worse:
Other health problems, such as heart failure and thyroid disorders
Medicines, such as sleeping pills, cold medicine, and medicine for anxiety
What are the symptoms of dementia?
Dementia causes problems with:
These problems make it hard to do normal daily tasks, such as shopping, making meals, and managing money. People also may have trouble behaving appropriately.
Symptoms get worse as time goes by.
Early symptoms of dementia:
Forgetting things that just happened
Forgetting where things are
Having trouble finding the right word to say and understanding what others say
Forgetting to pay bills
Having more trouble than usual with numbers
Getting lost when driving in familiar areas
Being more emotional, such as quickly switching from being happy to being sad
Family and friends often notice that people don't seem like themselves. At first, the differences may be hard to spot. Sometimes people themselves are the first to notice they're having trouble with things. Such difficulties often make them frustrated and upset.
Middle symptoms of dementia:
Getting lost at home, such as having trouble finding the bathroom or bedroom
Not recognizing familiar people and things
Being easily confused and unable to learn new information or follow simple directions
No longer safe to drive
Needing help with bathing, dressing, and eating
Not understanding normal conversation
Doing unusual things, such as yelling, undressing in public, hitting, and repeating questions
Having problems falling and staying asleep
Personality changes become more severe. People with dementia may be fearful and suspicious. Some are irritable and hostile. Others become withdrawn and depressed.
Late symptoms of dementia:
Losing all memory for recent and past events
Being unable to understand conversation
Not knowing close family or their own face in the mirror
Not being able to walk, feed themselves, or do other daily tasks
In late dementia, people lose almost all brain function. They can't get out of bed or even move. Eventually, they can't even swallow food that's placed in their mouth.
How can doctors tell if someone has dementia?
Doctors will ask people and their family members questions about symptoms. They’ll also do memory and other brain tests.
To see if another health problem is causing the dementia, doctors will do a physical exam and blood tests. They also do imaging tests such as a computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to look for abnormalities of the brain.
How do doctors treat dementia?
Treat other health problems that caused the dementia or make it worse
Stop any medicines that make dementia worse
Give medicine to slow memory loss and help with behavior changes
Explain the importance of a daily routine for bathing, eating, sleeping, and exercise
Help create a plan for safety at home (for example, putting up signs with reminders like "remember to turn off the stove" and scheduling visits from family members or friends)
Ask about end-of-life wishes, such as moving to a nursing home and whether to have CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) Standard CPR Cardiac arrest is when the heart stops pumping blood and oxygen to the brain and other organs and tissues. Sometimes a person can be revived after cardiac arrest, particularly if treatment is... read more or be put on a ventilator Mechanical Ventilation Mechanical ventilation is use of a machine to aid the movement of air into and out of the lungs. Some people with respiratory failure need a mechanical ventilator (a machine that helps air get... read more
Care for caregivers
Caring for people with any type of dementia is stressful and demanding. Caregivers may become depressed and exhausted, often not taking care of their own mental and physical health. It's important for caregivers to:
Learn how to meet the needs of people with dementia and what to expect from them
Seek help when needed, such as from day-care programs, visits by home nurses, housekeeping help, live-in assistance, counseling, and support groups
Take time to care for themselves, including spending regular time with friends and on hobbies and activities