Dementia isn't a specific disease. Instead, dementia describes a group of symptoms affecting thinking and social abilities severely enough to interfere with daily functioning.
Many causes of dementia symptoms exist. Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of a progressive dementia.
Memory loss generally occurs in dementia. However, memory loss alone doesn't mean you have dementia. Dementia indicates problems with at least two brain functions, such as memory loss and impaired judgment or language, and the inability to perform some daily activities such as paying bills or becoming lost driving.
Dementia can make you confused and unable to remember people and names. You also may experience changes in personality and social behavior. However, some causes of dementia are treatable and even reversible.
Dementia symptoms vary depending on the cause, but common signs and symptoms include:
When to see a doctor
Alzheimer's disease and several other types of dementia worsen over time. Early diagnosis gives you time to plan for the future while you can participate in making decisions.
Dementia involves damage of nerve cells in the brain, which may occur in several areas of the brain. Dementia may affect people differently, depending on the area of the brain affected.
Dementias can be classified in a variety of ways and are often grouped by what they have in common, such as what part of the brain is affected, or whether they worsen over time (progressive dementias).
Some dementias, such as those caused by a reaction to medications or an infection, are reversible with treatment.
Other disorders linked to dementia
Dementia causes that can be reversed
Many factors can eventually lead to dementia. Some factors, such as age, can't be changed. Others can be addressed to reduce your risk.
Risk factors that can't be changed
Risk factors you can change
Dementia can affect the functioning of many body systems and, therefore, the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. Dementia may lead to several problems, including:
Preparing for your appointment
Most likely, you'll first see your primary care provider if you have concerns about dementia. In some cases, you may be referred to a doctor trained in nervous system conditions (neurologist).
Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot to talk about, it's a good idea to be well prepared. If you're a caregiver for someone with more advanced dementia, you'll likely be the one gathering information from the doctor. Here's some information to help you get ready.
What you can do
Preparing a list of questions will help make the most of your time with the doctor. List questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. For dementia, some basic questions to ask the doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment at any time that you don't understand something.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
Memory loss and other dementia symptoms have many causes, so diagnosing dementia and other related conditions can be challenging and may require several appointments.
To diagnose your condition, your doctor will review your medical history and symptoms and conduct a physical examination. Doctors may order a number of tests to diagnose dementia and rule out other conditions.
Cognitive and neuropsychological tests
Doctors use these tests to determine whether you have dementia, how severe it is and what part of your brain is affected.
Treatments and drugs
Most types of dementia can't be cured. However, doctors will help you manage your symptoms. Treatment of dementia symptoms may help slow or minimize the development of symptoms.
Lifestyle and home remedies
People with dementia will experience progression of their symptoms and behavior problems over time. Caregivers may need to adapt the following suggestions to individual situations:
Exercise can also lessen symptoms of depression, help retain motor skills and create a calming effect.
Several dietary supplements, herbal remedies and therapies have been studied for people with dementia. Some may be beneficial.
Dietary supplements, vitamins and herbal remedies
Dietary supplements, vitamins and herbal remedies aren't regulated, and claims about their benefits aren't always based on scientific research. Some alternative medicine options for Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia that have been studied include:
Coping and support
Receiving a diagnosis of dementia can be devastating to you and your loved ones. Many details need to be considered to ensure that you and those around you are as prepared as possible for dealing with a condition that's unpredictable and continually changing.
Care and support for the person with the disease
Helping someone with dementia
There's no sure way to prevent dementia, but there are steps you can take that might help. More research is needed, but it may be beneficial to do the following:
Last Updated: 2013-04-16
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