What is Dementia?

Dementia is a catch-all term for a number of abnormal brain disorders with symptoms that can interfere with daily life: memory loss, forgetting words, difficulty solving problems or making decisions, and attitude/behavior changes.

Types of Dementia

There are many types of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common, but others include Vascular Dementia, Lewy Body Dementia, Fronto-Temporal Lobe Dementias, Parkinson’s disease, and Huntington’s disease.

What Causes Dementia?

Each of the different types of dementia has different causes. Alzheimer’s is caused by a high level of proteins in the brain that affect brain cells’ ability to communicate with each other. Vascular Dementia is caused by blood vessel blockage and microscopic bleeding in the brain. Lewy Body Dementia is caused by a build-up of cells (Lewy bodies) that keeps your brain from making chemicals it uses for memory and learning (acetylcholine), movement, sleep, and mood (dopamine). Other types of dementia have other causes within the brain.

The 7 Stages of Dementia

People with Dementia can go through seven stages of the disease, though it is possible to have symptoms from more than one stage at a time.

Stages 1 and 2. No symptoms or very mild symptoms that could simply be the result of old age

Stage 3. Mild cognitive decline—noticeable problems that get in the way of work or social interactions

Stage 4. Moderate cognitive decline—mood changes, difficulty performing complex tasks, forgetting recent events

Stage 5. Moderately severe cognitive decline—confused, may need help choosing appropriate clothing for the weather, but still remembers important details about family. Retains desire for independence and relationships.

Stage 6. Severe cognitive decline—may need help dressing or toileting, may have personality changes, may wander, may not remember spouse or caregiver’s name

Stage 7. Very severe cognitive decline—may need help with personal care, including eating or toileting; may lose the ability to carry a conversation

For more detailed information about the stages of dementia, read “The Global Deterioration Scale for Assessment of Primary Degenerative Dementia” (also known as the Reisberg Scale). 

Diagnosing Dementia

If your loved one has attitude or behavior changes that make you wonder if dementia is a possible cause, consult with a personal physician for formal diagnosis. An evaluation for dementia can include a range of cognitive, neurological, physical, and laboratory tests that take into consideration your loved one’s medical and genetic history.