What is a Dementia?

What is “dementia”? Are they inevitable? Are they treatable?

As we get older, we wonder and sometimes worry about “having dementia.” What is it and what are the causes?

Dementia is a general term – and umbrella term – for many diseases that affect the brain, or “cognition.”

Cognition involves memory, thinking, problem solving, decision making, communication and/or personality.

Dementias are diseases that affect cognition and, as a result, affect an individual’s ability care for himself or herself, work, do hobbies, and socialize.

Reversible Dementias

It is not unusual for people to become disoriented and forgetful as a result of a medical condition When diagnosed and treated promptly, the dementia may be reversible. Examples of conditions that may be reversible are

  • Dehydration
  • Nutrients insufficiency
  • New medication or interaction of medications
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Depression
  • Infections
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Tumors

Irreversible Dementias

Dementias that are progressive or chronic, and for which there are no known treatments at this time, are associated with diseases such as

  • Alzheimer’s Disease (about 60% of all dementia cases)
  • Vascular Dementia
  • Dementia with Lewy Bodies
  • Frontotemporal Dementia
  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease
  • Alcohol-related brain damage, including Korsakoff’s Syndrome)
  • HIV-associated neurocognitive disorder

 

For a brief description of chronic dementias, see the Alzheimer’s Society website at Chronic Dementias. A list and brief overview of reversible dementias can be found at Reversible Dementias.