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What Is Dementia?

Is Dementia Different than Alzheimer's?

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Updated March 21, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Dementia is a broad term that refers to a deterioration in brain functioning. It can include thought processes, judgment, reasoning, memory, communication and behavior.

What’s the Difference Between Alzheimer’s and Dementia?

Dementia is a broad category, while Alzheimer’s disease is a specific type, and the most common cause, of dementia.

Other kinds of dementia include Huntington’s disease, frontotemporal degeneration, vascular disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, and Parkinson’s dementia.

What Are the Symptoms of Dementia?

Dementia can show up as memory loss (usually short-term initially), difficulty finding the right words, poor judgment or a change in behaviors.

What Causes Dementia?

Dementia results from damage to the brain, and is related to several different neurological conditions that affect cognition, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, and frontotemporal dementia. Each of these diseases has certain risk factors, including lifestyle and genetics.

The risk of developing dementia increases as people age, but it is not a normal consequence of aging.

Prevalence of Dementia

Approximately half of people over the age of 85 develop Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of dementia. Currently, 5.4 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s or another dementia.

Diagnosis of Dementia

If you suspect someone has dementia, arrange for a doctor’s appointment for an evaluation. Sometimes, reversible conditions such as normal pressure hydrocephalus or vitamin B12 deficiency can cause confusion or memory loss. An assessment by a doctor can determine if any of those reversible health concerns exist, as well as outline a plan for treatment.

Treatment of Dementia

Treatment of dementia varies. Medications that are approved specifically to treat Alzheimer’s disease are often prescribed to treat other kinds of dementia as well. While some people report seeing very little benefit, others report that these medications seem to temporarily improve cognitive functioning and slow the progression of dementia.

Other ways to respond to changes in cognition and behavior include non-drug approaches like maintaining a daily routine, changing how caregivers respond to the person with dementia, and paying attention to non-verbal communication from your loved one.

Preventing Dementia

There is no sure-fire way to prevent dementia, but research suggests that things such as maintaining an active brain, regular physical exercise, and consuming a healthy diet may reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s and other kinds of dementia.

Sources:

Alzheimer's Association. What is dementia? Accessed May 19, 2012. http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_what_is_dementia.asp?type=alzFooter

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