Dementia is a loss of brain function that occurs with certain diseases. It affects memory, thinking, language, judgment, and behavior.
Dementia usually occurs in older age. It is rare in people under age 60. The risk of dementia increases as a person gets older.
Most types of dementia are nonreversible (degenerative). Nonreversible means the changes in the brain that are causing the dementia cannot be stopped or turned back. Alzheimer's disease is the most common type of dementia.
Lewy body disease is a leading cause of dementia the elderly. People with this condition have abnormal protein structures in certain areas of the brain.
Dementia also can be due to many small strokes. This is called vascular dementia.
The following medical conditions can also lead to dementia:
Some causes of dementia may be stopped or reversed if they are found soon enough, including:
Dementia symptoms include difficulty with many areas of mental function, including:
Dementia usually first appears as forgetfulness.
Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is the stage between normal forgetfulness due to aging and the development of dementia. People with MCI have mild problems with thinking and memory that do not interfere with daily activities. They are often aware of the forgetfulness. Not everyone with MCI develops dementia.
Symptoms of MCI include:
Early symptoms of dementia can include:
As dementia becomes worse, symptoms are more obvious and interfere with the ability to take care of oneself. Symptoms may include:
People with severe dementia can no longer:
Other symptoms that may occur with dementia:
A skilled health care provider can often diagnose dementia with the following steps:
Other tests may be ordered to find out if other problems may be causing dementia or making it worse. These conditions include:
The following tests and procedures may be done:
Treatment depends on the condition causing the dementia. Some people may need to stay in the hospital for a short time.
Stopping or changing medicines that make confusion worse may improve brain function.
Some kinds of mental exercises can help dementia.
Treating conditions that can lead to confusion often greatly improve mental functioning. Such conditions include:
Medicines may be used to:
People with mild cognitive impairment do not always develop dementia. When dementia does occur, it usually gets worse and often decreases quality of life and lifespan. Families will likely need to plan for their loved one’s future care..
Call your health care provider if:
Most causes of dementia are not preventable.
Risk of vascular dementia may be reduced by:
Chronic brain syndrome; Lewy body dementia; DLB; Vascular dementia; Mild cognitive impairment; MCI
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Bayer A. Presentation and clinical management of dementia. In: Fillit HM, Rockwood K, Woodhouse K, eds. Brocklehurst's Textbook of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa; 2010:chap 52.
Camicioli R, Rockwood K. Dementia diagnosis. In: Fillit HM, Rockwood K, Woodhouse K, eds. Brocklehurst's Textbook of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa; 2010:chap 51.
Knopman DS. Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman’s Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 409.
Qaseem A, et al., American College of Physicians/American Academy of Family Physicians Panel on Dementia. Current pharmacologic treatment of dementia: a clinical practice guideline from the American College of Physicians and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Ann Intern Med. 2008;148:370-378.
Updated by: Joseph V. Campellone, MD, Department of Neurology, Cooper University Hospital, Camden, NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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