Dementia is a general term that describes a group of symptoms, such as loss of memory, judgment, language, complex motor skills, and other intellectual function, caused by the permanent damage or death of the brain’s nerve cells, or neurons.
One or more of several diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease, can cause dementia.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia in persons over the age of 65. It represents about 60 percent of all forms of dementia. The other most common causes of dementia are vascular dementia, caused by stroke or blockage of blood supply, and dementia with Lewy bodies. Other types include alcohol dementia, caused by sustained use of alcohol; trauma dementia, caused by head injury; and a rare form of dementia, front temporal dementia.
The clinical symptoms and the progression of dementia vary, depending on the type of disease causing it, and the location and number of damaged brain cells. Some types progress slowly over years, while others may result in sudden loss of intellectual function.
Each type of dementia is characterized by different pathologic, or structural, changes in the brain, such as an accumulation of abnormal plaques and tangles in individuals with Alzheimer’s disease, and abnormal tau protein in individuals with front temporal dementia.
The symptoms of dementia vary, depending on the type of disease causing it. If someone is exhibiting these symptoms, the person should discuss his or her concerns with a healthcare professional. Awareness of these warning signs is not a substitute for a structured screening or consultation with a primary care provider. Warning signs include the following:
- Trouble with new memories
- Relying on memory helpers
- Trouble finding words
- Struggling to complete familiar actions
- Confusion about time, place, or people
- Misplacing familiar objects
- Onset of new depression or irritability
- Making bad decisions
- Personality changes
- Loss of interest in important responsibilities
- Seeing or hearing things
- Expressing false beliefs
Know the 10 Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s
Memory loss that disrupts everyday life is not a normal part of aging. It may be a sign of Alzheimer’s disease, a fatal brain disease that gets worse over time and causes changes in thinking, reasoning, and behavior.
Although the disease is more common in people 65 and older, it can also strike those in their 30s, 40s and 50s.
The following 10 warning signs, recently updated by the Alzheimer’s Association, are common changes that might point to Alzheimer’s or another dementia. Early detection and early diagnosis are important because they provide the best opportunities for treatment, support, and planning for the future.
- Memory changes that disrupt daily life
- Challenges in planning or solving problems
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks
- Confusion with time or place
- Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
- New problems with words in speaking or writing
- Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
- Decreased or poor judgment
- Withdrawal from work or social activities
- Changes in mood and personality
Not all of these signs mean that a person has Alzheimer’s, but they do indicate the need to seek medical help.