What Is Dementia?

Dementia is a loss of brain function that affects memory, thinking, language, judgment, and behavior. It is not a specific disease; rather it is a descriptive term for a collection of symptoms that can be caused by a number of disorders that affect the brain.

While memory loss is a common symptom of this condition, memory loss by itself does not mean that the person has the condition. Two or more brain functions, such as memory and language skills, must be significantly impaired for a diagnosis.

Causes of Dementia

Many diseases can cause dementia, including Alzheimer's disease, the most common cause of it. In most of these instances, the disorder is progressive and not reversible. Although drugs are available to treat some of these memory conditions, they are not a cure, nor do they repair brain damage. They may improve symptoms or slow down the progression of the disease.

There are other conditions that can cause dementia or similar symptoms including:

  • Reactions to medications
  • Metabolic problems
  • Endocrine abnormalities
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Infections
  • Brain tumors

In these conditions, it may be possible for treatment to reverse the progress of this condition.

Symptoms of Dementia

Symptoms vary depending on the cause and the area of the brain that is affected. Memory loss is usually the earliest and most noticeable symptom. Other key symptoms include difficulties in:

  • Language
  • Memory perception
  • Emotional behavior or personality change
  • Cognitive skills (such as calculations, abstract thinking, or judgment)

As the disorder progresses, symptoms are more obvious and interfere with the ability to care for oneself. People with severe dementia can no longer perform everyday tasks. Characteristics of this stage include:

  • Inability to walk or move from place to place unassisted
  • Complete dependence on others for activities of daily living (bathing, dressing, preparing meals, etc)
  • Complete loss of short and long term memory

Alzheimer's: Revolutionizing Diagnosis and Treatment

Amyloid imaging, which uses an FDA-approved agent called Amyvid to bind to abnormal proteins in the brain, is allowing physicians, for the first time ever, to diagnose Alzheimer's Disease definitively. This screening tool could also provide researchers with the insight they need to one day prevent Alzheimer's Disease.

It is generally accepted that treatments for Alzheimer's Disease, the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S., will be much more effective if introduced prior to the onset of symptoms and before significant brain destruction occurs. However, until now researchers could not study treatments to prevent Alzheimer's Disease because they had no way of knowing who would develop it.

Learn more about Amyloid Imaging and how it works in the video below:

Treatment for Dementia

Treatment depends on the condition causing the symptoms and the extent of damage already done to the brain. The goal of treatment is to control the symptoms of the condition and improve a patient's quality of life.

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