Alzheimers Home > Important Info on Dementia

Understanding Dementia

Dementia is not a specific disease. It is a descriptive term for a collection of symptoms that can be caused by a number of disorders that affect the brain. People with dementia:
 
  • Have significantly impaired intellectual functioning that interferes with normal activities and relationships.
 
  • Lose their ability to solve problems and maintain emotional control.
 
  • May experience personality changes and behavioral problems such as agitation, delusions, and hallucinations.
 

What Causes It?

Many conditions may cause dementia. Some conditions that cause it can be reversed, and others cannot. The two most common forms of dementia in older people are Alzheimer's disease and multi-infarct dementia (a type of vascular dementia caused by a disruption of blood flow to the brain). These types are irreversible, which means they cannot be cured.
 
Some reversible conditions that cause it include:
 
  • Vitamin deficiency, such as one involving vitamin B12 
  • Poor nutrition
  • Bad reactions to medicines
  • Problems with the thyroid gland
  • Minor head injury.
 
These medical conditions can be serious and should be treated by a doctor as soon as possible.
 
Sometimes older people have emotional problems that can be mistaken for dementia. Feeling sad, lonely, worried, or bored may be more common for older people facing retirement or coping with the death of a spouse, relative, or friend. Adapting to these changes leaves some people feeling confused or forgetful. However, supportive friends and family or professional help from a doctor or counselor can help these people cope with such emotional problems.
 
(Click Causes of Dementia for more information.)
 
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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