White Paper: Dementia

Dementia is the loss of intellectual ability. People with dementia show a gradual loss of memory, become confused, and may not perform normal daily activities. Eventually they may no longer recognize family members or friends, and may display agitated behavior. Although dementia is observed more often in older adults it is not a consequence of aging (Torpy JM, Lymn C, and Glass RM. Dementia. JAMA 297:2436, 2007).

The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. People with this disease loose neurons in areas of the brain dealing with memory and thinking. There is a build-up of abnormal proteins, called b amyloid, in the brain. Alzheimer’s more often affects seniors but it has been reported in younger adults. The cause is unknown, but risk factors include family history, a specific gene, and aging (Torpy JM, Lymn C, and Glass RM. Dementia. JAMA 297:2436, 2007).

Other causes of dementia include, stroke (vascular dementia), Parkinson’s Disease, and Huntington’s Disease. Symptoms similar to dementia may be caused by other factors, such as Vitamin B12 deficiency or a prescription medication, so it’s imperative that your doctor look for treatable causes.

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s or vascular dementia. However, there are support groups that can offer you help in caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s. Additionally, there are some prescription medications that can slow the progression of Alzheimer’s. Eventually, patients with Alzheimer’s disease will need full time care.

Your family care doctor should refer you to a gerontologist, neurologist, psychiatrist, or psychologist for proper care.

For more information see http://www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers.