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Dementia is age-related cognitive decline that is severe enough to interfere with daily life. It is typically a progressive problem, meaning that it starts out mild but becomes more pronounced as time goes on. "Dementia" is not itself a disease, but rather a generic term that encompasses a wide range of symptoms and underlying causes. Dementia affects roughly 10% of persons over the age of 65 in the US, and around 50% of those over the age of 85, with more than 3 million new cases being diagnosed each year.

Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause, accounting for 60-80% of all cases. Vascular dementia, which is tied to strokes, is the second most common form. Other forms and causes include:

  • Dementia with Lewy bodies
  • Mixed dementia
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Frontotemporal dementia
  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
  • Normal pressure hydrocephalus
  • Huntington's disease
  • Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome

More information on the various types of dementia can be found in the links below. Some forms of dementia are reversible, such as those caused by vitamin deficiencies.

The symptoms of dementia vary from person to person and cause to cause, but at least two of the following things must be affected in order to be officially diagnosed with dementia:

  • Memory
  • Language and communication skills
  • Attention and focus
  • Reasoning
  • Vision

Those with dementia commonly have memory issues, and may be prone to misplacing objects, getting lost, and becoming confused or disoriented. They may also have difficulties planning ahead, keeping appointments, and problem solving. There is a behavioral component to the syndrome as well, with dementia patients often exhibiting personality changes, depression, anxiety, paranoia, grumpiness, and other odd behaviors. Some may even hallucinate.

While the specifics vary based on the form of dementia, the underlying cause in call cases is damage to - or interference with - neurons. The location and severity of the damage determines what kind of symptoms manifest. The source of the damage varies between the different forms of dementia, though many have a genetic component (meaning that they run in families), and it is nearly always age-related as well.

Unfortunately, there is no true cure for dementia. The best that we can do right now is use various treatments to alleviate its symptoms and try to slow the progression of the disease. A great deal of research is also being done to find ways of lowering the risk of developing dementia for those who do not yet have it.

Dementia Symptoms and Treatment Options

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