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About Dementia


Dementia is not a specific disease but a general description of a collection of symptoms that occurs when the parts of the brain are affected by injury or disease which results in mental decline that is severe enough to interfere with a person's daily life.

Dementia is the general term used to describe significant impairment of two or more mental functions, such as thinking, memory, reasoning, speaking, or moving.




When there is a signficant decline in mental function in the elderly, it can be caused by a number of factors.  Although Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia, there are many other causes of mental decline as well. 

Dementia can also be due to reversible causes such as medication reactions, thyroid disease, depression, infections, certain vitamin deficiencies, fluid and electrolyte disorders, tumors and blood clots in the brain and other metabolic diseases.

Dementia can also occur as a result of:

  • Stroke (second most common cause) The gradual but progressive nature of Alzheimer's is dramatically different than the second most common cause of dementia, stroke or multi-infarct dementia.  In this type of dementia, a series of small strokes or changes in the brain's blood supply may result in the death of brain tissue. The location in the brain where the small strokes occur determines the seriousness of the problem and the resultant symptoms. Sudden onset of dementia-like symptoms, versus the gradual onset of Alzheimer's symptoms, is characteristic of this kind of dementia.  In this case the patient is likely to show signs of improvement or remain stable for long periods of time, then quickly develop new symptoms if more strokes occur.  
  • AIDS
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Parkinson's Disease
  • Pick's Disease, Huntington's Disease
  • Liver failure
  • Kidney failure
  • Diabetes

Do you have concerns that a family member is developing dementia?

What is normal forgetfulness, and when is memory loss concerning? (Click here to find out) There are many reversible causes of dementia, see your health care provider if you suspect a problem. Early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and other nonreversible conditions is also an important step to getting appropriate treatment, care and support services. Learn more about Alzheimer's

Diagnosis of Dementia

Your doctor will ask questions and perform a physical examination. A test commonly used by physicians to help screen for significant memory problems is called the MiniMental State Examination (MMSE). Click here to see this test. Further testing may include blood and urine tests to check overall health and to rule out other conditions that may be causing the symptoms. A CT or MRI scan of the brain might be ordered as well.


Read more:

Internet References:

1) Revealing Trans Fats from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
2) Dementia International and Support Network- Connecting with People
3) National Caregiver Alliance - National Center on Caregiving phone: (800) 445-8106
4) Supportpath (support for caregivers)
Eldercare Locator Service – (800) 677-1116
6) American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry (AAGP
(7) The Tangled Neuron A Layperson Reports on Alzheimer's and Dementia

--Written by N Thompson, ARNP in collaboration with M Thompson, MD, Internal Medicine, Last updated January 2009

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