Dementia is a decline in cognitive function. To be
considered dementia, mental impairment must affect at least two brain
functions. Dementia may affect:
Dementia is not a disease. It may be caused by a variety of
illnesses or injuries. Mental impairment may range from mild to severe. It may
also cause personality changes. Some dementias are progressive. This means they
get worse over time. Some dementias are treatable or even reversible. Some
experts restrict the term dementia to irreversible mental
There are many causes of dementia. In general, it results
from the degeneration of neurons (brain cells) or disturbances in other body
systems that affect how neurons function.
Several conditions can cause dementia, including diseases of
the brain. The most common such causes are Alzheimer’s disease
Neurodegenerative means that neurons gradually
cease to function or function inappropriately and eventually die. This impacts
the neuron-to-neuron connections, called synapses, which are how
messages are passed along in your brain. This disconnect can result in a range
Some of the more common causes of dementia include:
Another cause is frontotemporal lobar degeneration, which is
a blanket term for a range of conditions that cause damage to the frontal and
temporal lobes of the brain. They include:
Other causes of
Dementia may also be caused by other conditions, including:
Some of these dementias may be reversible. This is one of
the many reasons why it’s important to see your doctor and get a medical workup
as soon as symptoms develop.
forgetfulness a normal part of aging?
It’s absolutely normal to forget things once in a while.
Memory loss by itself does not mean you have dementia. There is a difference
between occasional forgetfulness and forgetfulness that is cause for serious
Potential red flags for dementia include:
- forgetting who someone is
- forgetting how to do common tasks, such
as how to use the telephone or find your way home
- inability to comprehend or retain information that has
been clearly provided
Seek medical attention if you experience any of the above.
Getting lost in familiar settings is often one of the first
signs of dementia. For example, you might have trouble driving to the
common is dementia?
Approximately 5 percent of people aged 65 to 74 years and 40
percent of people older than 85 have some form of dementia, according to
the Merck Manual.
The number of people diagnosed with dementia or living with it
is increasing. This increase is due partly to increasing life expectancy. By
2030, the size of the population 65 years of age and older in the United States
is expected to almost double from 37
million people in 2006 to an estimated 71.5 million by 2030, according to
the Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics Older Americans.
research is being done?
Scientists all over the world are working hard to gain a
better understanding of the many different aspects of dementia. This might help
to develop preventive measures, improved early detection diagnostic tools,
better and longer-lasting treatments, and even cures.
For example, a vaccine known as a bapineuzumab jab is
currently in its final phase of testing. Though it cannot cure dementia or
related disorders, this vaccine has been shown to prevent the buildup of
amyloid plaques in the brain. In some cases, this vaccine can even reverse
buildup of these plaques. Amyloid plaques are the hallmark of Alzheimer’s
disease. They’re mostly insoluble clumps of protein fragments that deposit a
highly damaging gunky substance outside and around the
brain’s nerve cells.
Scientists are investigating a variety of factors they think
might influence the development of dementia, including:
- genetic factors
- various neurotransmitters
- factors that influence programmed cell death in
- tau, a protein found in neurons of the central
- oxidative stress, or chemical reactions that can
damage proteins, DNA, and lipids inside cells
This research can help doctors and scientists better
understand what causes dementia, and then discover how best to treat and
possibly prevent the disorder.
There is also increasing evidence that lifestyle factors may
be effective in decreasing the risk of developing dementia. Such factors might
include getting regular exercise and maintaining social connections.