Dementia

This information describes the symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of dementia.

About Dementia

Dementia is the loss of brain functions, such as memory, thinking, and reasoning, that interferes with a person’s daily functions.

Dementia itself isn’t a disease. It’s a term used to describe a group of symptoms caused by various diseases or conditions. It usually develops slowly over time and is most often seen in older adults. However, it’s not a normal part of aging. Some common symptoms may include:

  • Trouble remembering recent events.
  • Getting lost in familiar places.
  • Difficulty with tasks, such as balancing a checkbook, paying bills, or planning activities.
  • Problems with language, such as trouble finding the right word.
  • Changes in their personality or behavior

Most adults experience some form of mild forgetfulness. This usually doesn’t point to a serious memory problem, but if symptoms get worse or they get in the way of your daily activities, you may need to see a doctor.

If you’re worried about your loved one’s forgetfulness, speak with their doctor so they can get help right away.

 

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Causes of Dementia

Dementia is caused by damage to nerve cells in the brain. The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease.

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Diagnosing Dementia

Your doctor will review your medical history, perform a physical exam, and order blood tests. They will evaluate your memory, problem solving, counting, and language skills. Your doctor may also order imaging of the brain, such as computed tomography (CT) scans or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), to gather more information.

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Treatment for Dementia

While there isn’t a cure for dementia at this time, there are some medications that may improve symptoms temporarily. Your doctor will discuss your treatment options with you.

You may also benefit from getting enough sleep, following routines (such as following a schedule for meal times and bedtime), and continuing social activities.

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How to Help Your Loved One

When the disease advances, your loved one may need help at home. You can provide support in many ways, including:

  • Maintaining their daily routine.
  • Letting them rest in-between activities.
  • Reminding them of the time of day.
  • Making sure they’re in calm and safe surroundings. You can do this by:
    • Making sure they have enough lighting in their room.
    • Avoiding clutter in their home.
    • Reducing distractions, such as loud music.
    • Installing grab bars in their shower.
    • Placing a rubber mat in their shower so they don’t slip.

Speak with their doctor if you notice changes in their behavior, such as increased confusion or falls.

Ask your loved one’s doctor, case manager, or social worker for help if they:

  • Become violent
  • Have inappropriate behavior
  • Aren’t safe when home alone
  • Need help taking care of them self

Some people may benefit from living in a long-term care facility. Ask the healthcare team for more information.

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Additional Resources

There are many resources available to help you learn more about dementia. Contact the organizations below to learn about support groups, services, publications, research centers, and studies.

Alzheimer’s Association
www.alz.org
24-hour helpline: 800-272-3900

Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral Center
www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers
800-438-4380

Eldercare Locator
www.eldercare.gov
800-677-1116

Healthinaging.org
www.healthinaging.org

National Institute on Aging
www.nia.nih.gov

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