Understanding Dementia

It can be confusing when trying to understand dementia, as it is used as a general term to refer to a range of disorders caused by abnormal brain changes, including Alzheimer's disease.

Dementia is the result of damaged brain cells, losing connection and stopping them communicating. This has an effect on thoughts, feelings and behavior. Damage in particular areas of the brain leads to loss of different functions.

Early signs of dementia can be:

Symptoms of dementia can include:

There are a variety of conditions that can cause symptoms, including thyroid problems, vitamin deficiencies, medication side effects, heavy and prolonged alcohol use, emotional problems and head injury.

Dementia causes changes in behavior, which are often difficult for families to cope with. For some suggestions on ways to handle this, take a look at our article on Managing Challenging Behaviors. In some cases, taking care of someone with dementia can become exhausting and continuously more demanding on top of other aspects of life, so different options for care (such as assisted living and nursing homes) can be explored.

Treatments depend on the cause of dementia. For most progressive dementias, including Alzheimer's, there is no cure. There are ways to treat early Alzheimer's, while other methods can temporarily reduce the speed of symptoms worsening and improve the individual's quality of life. Other strategies are used by people with dementia to cope with the changes they are going through, such as visual reminders and improving their health.

Dr. P. Heir

Sources: Alzheimer's Association; National Institute on Aging.