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Demystifying dementia: a progressive condition characterized by decline in memory and other thinking skills

The Learning Corp | Nov 8, 2019 | Dementia, Alzheimer's

Dementia is not a single disease. It’s an overall term for a set of diseases and conditions, like Alzheimer’s Disease and Lewy Body Dementia, characterized by a decline in memory, language, and other thinking skills that impact everyday activities. These diseases are caused by damage to brain cells which interferes with the ability of those cells to communicate with each other. \

While sometimes it may seem so, it is not a given that everyone develops dementia as they age. While dementia is more common with advanced age, it is not a normal part of aging. Many people live into their 90s and beyond without any signs of dementia. 

>> Download the printable infographic (PDF)

An estimated 6 million Americans live with some form of dementia

The most common forms of dementia include:

  • Alzheimer’s Disease – 62% of individuals with dementia have Alzheimer’s. It is caused by the buildup of two abnormal protein structures in the brain called amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles, which disrupts communication between brain cells.
  • Vascular dementia – 20% of those with dementia have this type, which is caused by interrupted oxygen flow to the brain, causing brain cells to die.
  • Lewy body dementia – 15% of those with dementia have this type. It’s caused by Lewy bodies which are abnormal structures found in the brain’s cortex, which is responsible for thinking, perceiving and understanding language.
  • Frontotemporal dementia – 3% of those with dementia have this type. It’s caused by the degeneration of brain cells located in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain, which control personality, judgment, emotion, and language.

Additional detail on the multiple forms of dementia can be found here.

Symptoms and diagnosis of dementia

Note that the presence of any or all of these symptoms is not a sure indicator of dementia. A complete examination by a physician is required to be sure.

  • Problems with short-term and long-term memory
  • Problems with decision-making, problem solving and judgment
  • Difficulty producing or understanding language
  • Loss of ability to learn new information
  • Loss of spatial abilities, and difficulties judging shapes, sizes and the relationship of objects in space
  • Personality and behavior changes, for example, depression, apathy, withdrawal from usual activities, sleeping more than usual, apathy
  • Confusion with time and place / getting lost in familiar places

Diagnosis typically involves physical and neurological exams, a thorough medical history and mental status evaluation. 

No treatments currently exist to stop dementia from progressing, although some treatments may help manage symptoms

Some studies suggest that certain drugs may help manage certain symptoms and associated behavioral issues. In addition, people living with dementia often receive rehabilitation services including physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech-language therapy, whose goal is to maximize quality of life and communication success and maintain skills using a combination of compensatory and impairment-based approaches.

>> Download the printable infographic (PDF)

Additional resources

  1. Alzheimer’s Association
  2. National Institutes on Aging (part of NIH)
  3. National Institutes of Neurological Disorder and Stroke (part of NIH)
  4. American Psychiatric Association

forms of dementia

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