Dementia

Overview

Definition

Dementia is a loss in mental skills, such as the ability to think, reason, learn, and understand. It causes problems with day-to-day tasks.

Some Areas of the Brain Affected by Dementia
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Causes

Many health problems can be a cause. Some common ones are:

  • Alzheimer dementia
  • Brain damage after many small strokes
  • Lewy body disease
  • Front-temporal dementia, such as Pick disease
  • Huntington disease
  • Brain injury
  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and other prion disorders
  • Parkinson disease

Risk Factors

It is more common in older adults. Other things that may raise the risk are:

  • Having other people in your family who have it
  • Down syndrome
  • Having head trauma
  • Having health problems that damage the heart and blood vessels, such as:
    • High cholesterol
    • High blood pressure
    • Diabetes
    • Multiple strokes

SymptomsandDiagnosis

Symptoms

Symptoms start slowly and get worse with time. They may be:

  • Memory loss
  • Lack of focus
  • Problems making choices or plans
  • Problems naming things
  • Getting lost in familiar places
  • Mood swings
  • Slowness when moving
  • Being withdrawn

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. Cognitive tests and nervous system tests will also be done.

Images may be taken. This can be done with:

  • MRI scan
  • CT scan
  • PET/CT scan

Treatments

Treatment

There is no cure. The goal is to manage it. This can be done with medicines, such as:

  • Cholinesterase inhibitors to treat changes in thinking
  • Memantine to decrease abnormal activity in the brain

Lifestyle Changes

These changes may also be helpful:

  • Getting light exercise
  • Making the home a calm and safe place
  • Getting personal comfort needs met, such as hunger, thirst, and emotions
  • Using memory aides
  • Choosing a healthcare proxy and a legal power of attorney

Prevention

The cause of dementia is not known. Healthy habits may help lower the risk. Here are some tips:

  • Exercise regularly. Aim for 150 minutes or more of activity each week.
  • Eat a healthful diet that is rich in fruits, veggies, grains, beans, seeds, olive oil, and fish.
  • Drinking alcohol may help lower the risk, but it should be used in moderation. This means no more than 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men. Drinking too much can raise the risk of dementia.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Reach or stay at a healthy weight.
  • Manage high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
  • Cognitive training programs may maintain brain function.

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.

RESOURCES

Alzheimer's Association http://www.alz.org 

American Academy of Neurology http://www.aan.com 

CANADIAN RESOURCES

Alzheimer Society Canada http://www.alzheimer.ca 

Toronto Dementia Network http://www.dementiatoronto.org 

References

Alzheimer dementia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:  https://www.dynamed.com/condition/alzheimer-dementia  . Updated August 9, 2019. Accessed October 14, 2019.

Alzheimer's disease medications fact sheet. National Institute on Aging website. Available at: https://www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers/publication/alzheimers-disease-medications-fact-sheet. Updated April 1, 2018. Accessed October 14, 2019.

Dementia evaluation. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:  https://www.dynamed.com/evaluation/dementia-evaluation  . Updated August 21, 2019. Accessed October 14, 2019.

Moga DC, Roberts M, et al. Dementia for the Primary Care Provider. Prim Care. 2017 Sep;44(3):439-456.