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Condition

Dementia

Symptoms, Doctors, Treatments, Research & More

Condition 101

What is the definition of Dementia?

Dementia is a loss of brain function that occurs with certain diseases. It affects memory, thinking, language, judgment, and behavior.

What are the alternative names for Dementia?

Chronic brain syndrome; Lewy body dementia; DLB; Vascular dementia; Mild cognitive impairment; MCI

What are the causes for Dementia?

Dementia usually occurs in older age. Most types are 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 disease is the most common type of dementia.

Another common type of dementia is vascular dementia. It is caused by poor blood flow to the brain, such as with stroke.

Lewy body disease is a common cause of dementia in older adults. People with this condition have abnormal protein structures in certain areas of the brain.

The following medical conditions can also lead to dementia:

  • Huntington disease
  • Brain injury
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Infections such as HIV/AIDS, syphilis, and Lyme disease
  • Parkinson disease
  • Pick disease
  • Progressive supranuclear palsy

Some causes of dementia may be stopped or reversed if they are found soon enough, including:

  • Brain injury
  • Brain tumors
  • Long-term (chronic) alcohol abuse
  • Changes in blood sugar, sodium, and calcium levels (dementia due to metabolic causes)
  • Low vitamin B12 level
  • Normal pressure hydrocephalus
  • Use of certain medicines, including cimetidine and some cholesterol drugs
  • Some brain infections

What are the symptoms for Dementia?

Dementia symptoms include difficulty with many areas of mental function, including:

  • Emotional behavior or personality
  • Language
  • Memory
  • Perception
  • Thinking and judgment (cognitive skills)

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 often know about their forgetfulness. Not everyone with MCI develops dementia.

Symptoms of MCI include:

  • Difficulty doing more than one task at a time
  • Difficulty solving problems or making decisions
  • Forgetting names of familiar people, recent events, or conversations
  • Taking longer to do more difficult mental activities

Early symptoms of dementia can include:

  • Difficulty with tasks that take some thought, but that used to come easily, such as balancing a checkbook, playing games (such as bridge), and learning new information or routines
  • Getting lost on familiar routes
  • Language problems, such as trouble with the names of familiar objects
  • Losing interest in things previously enjoyed, flat mood
  • Misplacing items
  • Personality changes and loss of social skills, which can lead to inappropriate behaviors 
  • Mood changes leading to aggressive behavior
  • Poor performance of job duties

As dementia becomes worse, symptoms are more obvious and interfere with the ability to take care of oneself. Symptoms may include:

  • Change in sleep patterns, often waking up at night
  • Difficulty with basic tasks, such as preparing meals, choosing proper clothing, or driving
  • Forgetting details about current events
  • Forgetting events in one's own life history, losing self-awareness
  • Having hallucinations, arguments, striking out, and violent behavior
  • Having delusions, depression, and agitation
  • More difficulty reading or writing
  • Poor judgment and loss of ability to recognize danger
  • Using the wrong word, not pronouncing words correctly, speaking in confusing sentences
  • Withdrawing from social contact

People with severe dementia can no longer:

  • Perform basic activities of daily living, such as eating, dressing, and bathing
  • Recognize family members
  • Understand language

Other symptoms that may occur with dementia:

  • Problems controlling bowel movements or urine
  • Swallowing problems

What are the current treatments for Dementia?

Treatment depends on the condition causing the dementia. Some people may need to stay in the hospital for a short time.

Sometimes, dementia medicine can make a person's confusion worse. Stopping or changing these medicines is part of the treatment.

Certain mental exercises can help with dementia.

Treating conditions that can lead to confusion often greatly improve mental function. Such conditions include:

  • Anemia
  • Decreased blood oxygen (hypoxia)
  • Depression
  • Heart failure
  • Infections
  • Nutritional disorders
  • Thyroid disorders

Medicines may be used to:

  • Slow the rate at which symptoms get worse, though improvement with these drugs may be small
  • Control problems with behavior, such as loss of judgment or confusion

Someone with dementia will need support in the home as the disease gets worse. Family members or other caregivers can assist by helping the person cope with memory loss and behavior and sleep problems. It is important to make sure the homes of people who have dementia are safe for them.

What is the outlook (prognosis) for Dementia?

People with MCI do not always develop dementia. When dementia does occur, it usually gets worse over time. Dementia often decreases quality of life and lifespan. Families will likely need to plan for their loved one's future care.

When should I contact a medical professional for Dementia?

Call your provider if:

  • Dementia develops or a sudden change in mental status occurs
  • The condition of a person with dementia gets worse
  • You are unable to care for a person with dementia at home

How do I prevent Dementia?

Most causes of dementia are not preventable.

The risk of vascular dementia may be reduced by preventing strokes through:

  • Eating healthy foods
  • Exercising
  • Quitting smoking
  • Controlling high blood pressure
  • Managing diabetes
Brain
Arteries

REFERENCES

Knopman DS. Cognitive impairment and other dementias. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 374.

Peterson R, Graff-Radford J. Alzheimer disease and other dementias. In: Daroff RB, Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC, Pomeroy SL, eds. Bradley's Neurology in Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 95.

Petersen RC, Lopez O, Armstrong MJ, et al. Practice guideline update summary: mild cognitive impairment: report of the Guideline Development, Dissemination, and Implementation Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology. Neurology. 2018;90(3):126-135.PMID: 29282327 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29282327.

Latest Research

Latest Advance
Study
  • Condition: Post-Stroke Cognitive Impairment
  • Journal: Journal of stroke and cerebrovascular diseases : the official journal of National Stroke Association
  • Treatment Used: Remote Ischemic Post-Conditioning
  • Number of Patients: 48
  • Published —
This study tested the safety and efficacy of using remote ischemic post-conditioning to treat patients with post-stroke cognitive impairment.
Latest Advance
Study
  • Condition: Huntington Disease (HD)
  • Journal: Journal of pharmacy & pharmaceutical sciences : a publication of the Canadian Society for Pharmaceutical Sciences, Societe canadienne des sciences pharmaceutiques
  • Treatment Used: Medical Marijuana
  • Number of Patients: 0
  • Published —
This review of the literature evaluated the effects of medical marijuana on symptoms that are relevant to movement disorders, focusing on Huntington disease (HD).

Clinical Trials

Clinical Trial
Other
  • Status: Not yet recruiting
  • Study Type: Other
  • Participants: 15
  • Start Date: February 21, 2025
The Use of Focused Ultrasound and Microbubble Infusion for Altering Brain Perfusion and the Blood Brain Barrier
Clinical Trial
Other
  • Status: Not yet recruiting
  • Study Type: Other
  • Participants: 120
  • Start Date: September 2023
Integration of Health Information Technology and Promotion of Personhood in Family-Centered Dementia Care