What Is Dementia?

Dementia is a collection of symptoms resulting from certain brain disorders where two or more functions have significant impairment, such as memory and language skills. Experts believe that many factors contribute to Dementia, and it often presents as a combination of progressive symptoms affecting personality, behavior, memory, language, mood, and motor skills. 

What Dementia Is Not

Dementia is not a specific disease; it is a syndrome. Rather, it describes a wide range of medical conditions that affect the brain, including Alzheimer’s disease (AD), Vascular Dementia, Lewy Body Dementia, Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD), Huntington’s disease, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, and more.

Dementia is not characterized by memory loss alone. While it is one of the common symptoms of Dementia, memory loss by itself does indicate Dementia. Healthcare providers may diagnose Dementia if two or more brain functions have significant impairment without loss of consciousness, and there are declines in cognitive performance over time. 

Dementia is not widely considered a “normal” part of aging. While mild changes in cognition are common to experience as people mature, Dementia is different in its ability to cause a severe disruption in daily life and functioning.

While certain conditions can masquerade as Dementia and may be treatable, the pathologies that cause Dementia are not considered curable. While no cure exists for Dementia today, several symptom management techniques are available for consideration, including medications, non-medical therapies, and even alternative medicine.

Types of Dementia

As referenced in this useful Dementia help infographic, the major types of Dementia include:
 

  • Alzheimer’s disease (AD) – A progressive brain disorder that typically begins slowly destroys short term memory and other mental functions

  • Vascular Dementia (multi-infarct) – The loss of cognitive function caused by multiple mini-strokes

  • Lewy Body Dementia (LBD) – A progressive condition that sometimes accompanied by hallucinations may cause a decline in reasoning, mobility (slight tremors, falls), and function due to damaging microscopic deposits on the brain  

  • Frontotemporal Degeneration (FTD) – An umbrella term for brain disorders that affects the nerve cells in the frontal and/or prefrontal lobes, causing the lobes to shrink, which most affects executive functions like decision making

  • Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) – A disruption of brain function usually caused by a violent blow, bump, or jolt of the head (concussion)

  • Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS) – A neurological disorder caused by a deficiency in the B vitamin thiamin

  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease – A rapidly degenerative brain disorder experts believe caused by an abnormal isoform of a cellular glycoprotein called prion protein

  • Huntington’s disease – A rare and inherited condition that causes a breakdown of the brain’s nerve cells, triggering movement, cognitive, and psychiatric symptoms

  • Multiple Sclerosis (MS) – A brain and spinal cord disease where the immune system attacks the protective covering of nerves, disrupting communication between the brain and body

  • AIDS Dementia complex – A loss of mental skills in people with late-stage AIDS affecting thinking, reasoning, learning, understanding, and moving

  • Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) – A neurodegenerative disease thought to be caused by repeated concussions

The First Stages of Dementia

While initial Dementia symptoms are unique to each person, a few of the early signs can include: 

  • Short term memory loss

  • Normal daily activities become difficult

  • May lose the ability to solve problems

  • May be unable to control emotions

  • Personality changes

  • Agitation

  • Desires to "go home" or leave their house

  • May see things that aren’t there

  • Repeating questions

  • Inability to retrace steps

  • Frequently misplacing items

  • Forgetting the functions of everyday items

  • Difficulty remembering the names of objects or close relatives

As the condition progresses, people living with Dementia may experience personality changes and behavioral challenges, such as delusions and hallucinations. For additional Dementia help, consult your doctor or medical specialist to understand symptoms and behaviors unique to one's specific situation.

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How to Help Someone With Dementia

If you’re helping to care for a person living with Dementia, there are many tips and resources to guide your journey. The following are a few helpful suggestions for how to care for someone with Dementia:

  • Learn post-diagnosis steps. Reference the practical steps we outlined in this infographic on Dementia help after diagnosis, including getting a written diagnosis, considering a second opinion, and creating a plan of care.
     

  • Make it legal. If you are responsible for a loved one’s care, ensure you have the proper legal rights to do so by becoming the designated Power of Attorney (POA) or conservator or guardian.
     

  • Educate yourself on the diagnosis. Learn as much as you can about the diagnosis to help you understand the person living with Dementia with compassion and empathy. These health information links and brain health resources may also help shed light.
     

  • Think about the future. Determine the amount and type of long-term care your loved one will need, such as a caregiving service or assisted living facility, and begin researching the options early so that you’re prepared.
     

  • Reference free online training resources. Look to Dementia help organizations such as the Dementia Society,  UCLAMorningside Ministries, and Johns Hopkins School of Nursing that provide free online videos, education, and training for caregivers of people living with Dementia.

 

  • Make home safe. Make the home environment Dementia-friendly with simple adjustments to noise levels, lighting, color schemes, labeling, safety measures to prevent accidents, etc.

  • Rely on routines. Develop and adhere to predictable routines to help reduce confusion and frustration.
     

  • Use technology. Helpful Dementia technologies can bring joy to a person you know, living with Dementia. Browse our award-winning S.M.A.R.T. winners, including SingFit™ for music health, SafeWander device, and Joy for All Companion Pet toys.

  • Communicate with care. When talking to a parent or loved one living with Dementia, use their name to get their attention, offer simple phrasing with short sentences, and take care not to talk to them as a child.
     

  • Use patience and compassion. Be patient by allowing plenty of time to speak to avoid startling, confusing, or agitating, and avoid correcting things they may not remember correctly.
     

  • Follow medical advice. Adhere to your loved one’s healthcare provider’s advice for daily exercise and activities, dental care, nutrition, bathing and skincare, and medications.
     

  • Get a DSA Aware & Share card. Request a complementary Aware & Share Card that you or your loved one can present to people in hotels, restaurants, hospitals, stores, and elsewhere to quietly request extra TLC for communicating with respect and dignity.

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Help for Caregivers of Dementia Patients

When you’re caring for someone with Dementia, it’s essential to seek support to help take care of you, too. The following are just a few of the resources and suggestions that offer helpful caregiver support, programs, services, and resources.
 

Local and national Dementia help organizations 

Dementia Help Support Groups

Support groups can help you form friendships, find advice, gain control and empowerment, and enhance your role as a caregiver. There are several in-person and online memory caregiver support groups specifically designed to connect caregivers of Dementia patients, including:
 

Dementia Help Workshops, Webinars, & Media

The following in-person Dementia help seminars and online webinars provide people living with Dementia and their family and caregivers with helpful tools and information.

Workshops
The Dementia Action Plan - 7 Steps to Take in the Face of Dementia™

Presented by founder and nationally recognized spokesperson, Kevin Jameson, this approximately one-hour Dementia help seminar covers what you know when dealing with Dementia in the short- and long-term. It includes an outline of seven simple steps detailed in the straightforward C.Y.P.R.E.S.S. Steps™ to empower you to successfully navigate life as a caregiver/partner or person living with Dementia, no matter the challenges that may lie ahead.

The Cognitive Action Plan - 10 Building Blocks to Better Brain Health™ 

Presented by founder and nationally recognized spokesperson, Kevin Jameson, this approximately one-hour life-changing Dementia help seminar covers interventions that may be the building blocks of better brain health. Citing international science-based studies, Kevin details and explains in lay terms his F.O.U.N.D.A.T.I.O.N. Findings™, and the positive actions you can take to increase the likelihood of mitigating the effects of aging, disease, and decades-old lifestyle choices.

Webinars

Dementia Unplugged™

You may also find online resources such as the Dementia Unplugged webinars helpful. Developed in cooperation with Jeannine Forrest, Ph.D., R.N., these monthly educational and conversational sessions are designed to help people who live with Dementia continue to lead meaningful lives through education and support of their care-partner. 

Media 
Find dozens of helpful Dementia videos available on our YouTube channel at no cost. Covering topics including Dementia & Brain Health Quickies™, Brain Health Awareness, you and your loved ones can access these Dementia help resources right now from the comfort of your home.

Peruse our curated reading list of books on Dementia help that can offer hope, inspiration, and opportunities to better understand and cope. Find additional media on our website, including films and documentaries. 

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Dementia Help Directories

For help finding a Dementia healthcare provider, caregiver, agency, facility, or another Dementia professional, search our online directories to locate a resource near you. You can also find nursing home ratings, create a support network, age-in-place contractors, and more.

We are your source for useful and reliable Dementia help and resources. To learn more about Dementia, our mission programs, volunteering, or requesting a memorial, please contact us today.

Important Notice: Dementia Society of America (DSA) does not provide medical advice. The contents are for informational purposes only and are not intended to substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

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Dementia Society of America - PO Box 600 - Doylestown, PA 18901

Dementia Society is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

Telephone 1-800-DEMENTIA (1-800-336-3684)

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Last Updated

September 2020