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Dementia 101

Young hands holding older hands.

Dementia is a medical condition that changes a person's ability to think independently and react to common situations. Symptoms can include short-term memory changes, confusion, difficulty finding the right words to say, changes in mood, loss of interest in things someone once enjoyed, difficulty completing normal tasks, and repeating tasks. Dementia is a brain disease that has no cure. However, medications can help ease symptoms.

We don't yet know what causes dementia. The most common risk factors, according to the National Institute on Aging, are: age, alcohol use, diabetes, down syndrome, genetics, high blood pressure, clogged arteries, mental illness, and smoking.

Alzheimer’s Disease is perhaps the most well-known type of dementia, but there are other types, including vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, frontotemporal dementia, Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, and Huntington’s disease. Because each type is different, getting the correct diagnosis from a health care provider is key to understanding how your or your loved one’s dementia will progress. Knowing what to expect will make caregiving easier and more fulfilling.

Several medical conditions common in older adults can cause short-term memory loss and confusion and may look like dementia. These can usually be treated and include  urinary tract infection, vitamin B and B12 deficiencies, dehydration, malnutrition, anesthesia, stress, depression, medication, and lack of sleep. This is another reason why talking to a health care provider about your concerns and symptoms is important.