Dementia is not a disease. It refers to a specific set of symptoms that affect social and intellectual abilities enough that they interfere with daily functioning. These symptoms, which can include memory loss, mood changes and problems with reasoning and communication, are generally caused by disorders, such as Alzheimer’s, that affect the brain. When one or more disorders affect the parts of the brain that are involved with learning, memory, decision-making and language, an individual is said to have dementia.
Memory loss is one of the most common symptoms of dementia; however, memory loss alone is not is not a sure sign of dementia. In order for dementia to be present, a patient must have problems with at least two brain functions, such as memory loss and language or memory loss and impaired judgment.
Though the first sign of dementia is usually forgetfulness, other mental functions affected include: language, perception, personality, cognitive skills, and emotional behavior.
Aside from Alzheimer’s disease, which accounts for more than half of all dementias, other causes of dementia include:
There is no one way to cure the diseases that cause dementia, and symptoms tend to gradually get worse over time. A number of the diseases, however, can be treated with medication, reversing or improving certain symptoms. Some mental exercises have also been shown to help dementia and can improve mental functioning in some patients.