Dementia is a condition that causes ongoing problems with thinking, remembering, and behavior. It happens most often in people older than 65. While everyone forgets things, or behaves differently on occasion, people with dementia experience these changes more often. And, the changes get worse over time.
For example, people with dementia may:
- Ask the same question or repeat the same story over and over
- Get lost in familiar places
- Struggle to follow simple or familiar directions (like how to work the microwave)
- Get confused about time, people, and places
- Neglect personal safety, nutrition, and bathing
Those who may have some trouble remembering but can still do normal daily activities on their own have mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Sometimes a person’s MCI gets worse and becomes dementia. Sometimes, it gets better or doesn’t change at all.
In early dementia, you won’t feel sick. Most people who are diagnosed with dementia feel healthy for a very long time (years).
Symptoms of dementia vary, but may include:
- Memory loss
- Decline in motor function
- Behavioral changes
- Cognitive decline
It may be time to see a doctor if you or your loved one:
- Asks the same question or repeats the same story over and over
- Gets lost in familiar places
- Struggles to follow simple or familiar directions (like how to work the microwave)
- Gets confused about time, people, and places
- Neglects personal safety, nutrition, and bathing
There are different types of dementia, all resulting from brain cells that stop functioning:
- Most people with dementia have Alzheimer’s [AHLTS-hahy-merz] disease, which causes changes in the brain slowly, usually over 4 or more years.
- The next most common kind of dementia is vascular dementia, which happens when the brain doesn’t get enough blood due to a stroke or when blood flow is blocked by a blood clot.
Less-common forms of dementia include:
- Dementia associated with Parkinson’s disease — caused by a decline in nerve cells as Parkinson’s disease progresses
- Frontotemporal [fruhnt-oh-TEM-per-uhl] dementia — caused by a decline in the lobes (parts) of the brain that control personality, behavior, and language
- Dementia with Lewy bodies — caused by protein deposits that develop in nerve cells in the brain
There is currently no definitive blood test or imaging study (like an MRI or CT scan) that tells your doctor that you have dementia. Instead, your doctor and other specialists will gather information from several sources before diagnosing dementia, including:
- Performing a screening memory test (called a “Mini-Cog”) and a follow-up test (called “MoCA”)
- Asking you and your family or friends about life at home, such asthings that you could once do easily but now struggle with
- Ordering some lab tests or reviewing recent ones you've had
- Suggesting getting an MRI or CT scan of your brain
- Referring you to a specialist, like a neurologist [noo-ROL-uh-jist] or neuropsychologist [NOOR-oh-sahy-KOL-uh-jist], for more detailed memory testing
While some medicines can help with some symptoms, there currently is no cure for dementia. However, there are a number of things that you and your doctor can start doing right now to help slow down the process and live the healthiest, happiest life possible.
Manage medical conditions that can make memory worse. Certain health conditions also cause problems with thinking and remembering. These include:
- Untreated thyroid disease
- Vitamin B12 deficiency
- Heart failure
Go to all of your appointments. The only way your doctor can monitor how you are doing and support your needs as they develop is by you keeping your regular follow-up appointments.
Focus on taking care of yourself. Develop a self-care plan for managing your medicines, diet, exercise, safety, and planning for the future. With your care manager, use Intermountain’s fact sheet: Dementia: Personal Action Plan to help you get started.
Ask for support. Talk with your family and friends about your diagnosis. Tell them what you want for your care and living situation in the years to come. Join a local support group, and use the many online resources available at alz.org.
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