Dementia is a general term for the impaired ability to remember, think, or make decisions that interferes with doing everyday activities. Alzheimer's disease is the most common type of dementia. Though dementia mostly affects older adults, it is not a part of normal aging.
Dementia and Aging
Many older adults live their entire lives without developing dementia. Normal aging may include weakening muscles and bones, stiffening of arteries and vessels, and some age-related memory changes. Occasional behaviors like the following are part of normal aging:
- Occasionally misplacing car keys
- Struggling to find a word but remembering it later
- Forgetting the name of an acquaintance
- Forgetting the most recent events
Older adults normally retain knowledge and experiences built over years, old memories, and language skills.
Signs and Symptoms of Dementia
The symptoms of dementia can vary widely from person to person.
People with dementia have problems with:
- Reasoning, judgment, and problem solving
- Visual perception other than typical age-related changes in vision
Signs of dementia include:
- Getting lost in a familiar neighborhood
- Using unusual words to refer to familiar objects
- Forgetting the name of a close family member or friend
- Forgetting old memories
- Not being able to complete tasks independently
Risk Factors for Dementia
The following can increase the risk of dementia:
- Age: The strongest known risk factor for dementia is increasing age, with most cases affecting those of 65 years and older
- Family history: Those who have parents or siblings with dementia are more likely to develop dementia themselves.
- Race/ethnicity: Older African Americans are twice more likely to have dementia than whites. Hispanics are 50% more likely to have dementia than whites.
- Poor heart health: High blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking increase the risk of dementia if not treated properly.
- Traumatic brain injury: Head injuries can increase the risk of dementia, especially if they are severe or occur repeatedly.
If someone has signs of dementia, a healthcare provider can test their health, memory and cognitive abilities to see whether there is cause for concern.
Common Types of Dementia?
- Alzheimer's disease: This is the most common cause of dementia, accounting for 60 to 80 percent of cases. It is caused by specific changes in the brain that lead to trouble remembering recent events, personality changes, and physical difficulties. More about Alzheimer's disease
- Vascular dementia: About 10 percent of dementia cases are linked to strokes or other issues with blood flow to the brain. Diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol are also risk factors. Symptoms vary depending on the area and size of the brain affected.
- Lewy body dementia and front-temporal dementia are less frequent causes of dementia that can cause problems with movement and balance, personality and behavior changes, or loss of alertness and attention.
Mixed dementia, involving more than one cause, is also possible.
Neurodegenerative dementias, like Alzheimer's disease, have no cure, though there are medications that can help protect the brain or manage symptoms such as anxiety or behavior changes.
Leading a healthy lifestyle may decrease chances of developing dementia. Regular exercise, healthy eating, and maintaining social contacts may all help.
If you think someone may have dementia
- Discuss: Talk about seeing a medical provider about the observed changes soon. Talk about the issue of driving and always carrying an ID.
- Get a medical assessment: Be with a provider that you are comfortable with. Ask about the Medicare Annual Wellness exam.
- Have a family meeting: Start planning, and gather documents like the Health Care Directive, Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, and an Estate Plan.
Caregiving for those with dementia isn't easy. It can put the health of caregivers at risk over time from stress and the inability to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Caregivers can take steps to stay healthy and continue giving the best care they can.