It’s not unusual to have occasional trouble finding the right word or remembering where you put things. But persistent difficulty with memory, cognition and ability to perform everyday tasks might be signs of something more serious.
What is dementia?
Dementia is a catch-all term for changes in the brain that cause a loss of functioning that interferes with daily life. It can diminish focus, attention, language skills, problem-solving and visual perception. Dementia can also make it difficult for a person to control his or her emotions and can even lead to personality changes.
More than 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common type of dementia, though many experts say that number is probably higher. And its prevalence is projected to reach nearly 13 million by 2050, according to the latest figures from the Alzheimer’s Association. Globally, more than 55 million people have dementia, the World Health Organization estimates.
Different Types of Dementia
These conditions are the leading causes of dementia. People can also have mixed dementia, a combination of two or more types, such as Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia.
Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s is characterized by amyloid plaques and tangled fibers in the brain and by a loss of connections between nerve cells. Damage initially appears in the hippocampus, an area of the brain involved in memory formation, and gradually spreads.
Vascular dementia. The second most common type of dementia results from damage to the vessels that supply blood to the brain. It tends to affect focus, organization, problem-solving and speed of thinking more noticeably than memory.
Lewy body dementia. Abnormal protein deposits in the brain, called Lewy bodies, affect brain chemistry and lead to problems with behavior, mood, movement and thinking.
Frontotemporal disorders. Degenerative damage to the brain’s frontal and temporal lobes is the most common cause of dementia in people age 65 and younger. Symptoms might include apathy; difficulty communicating, walking or working; emotional changes; and impulsive or inappropriate behaviors.
Sources: National Institute on Aging, Mayo Clinic
If someone is showing signs of dementia, it’s important to see a medical expert who can conduct tests and come up with a diagnosis. Several, often treatable, conditions — from common infections to a vitamin deficiency — can cause dementia-like symptoms, so it’s necessary to rule them out first.
If it is dementia, you’ll want to plan how you will manage care or pursue treatment, especially as the condition progresses.
10 warning signs of dementia
Here are some symptoms to watch for:
1. Difficulty with everyday tasks. Everyone makes mistakes, but people with dementia may find it increasingly difficult to do things like keep track of monthly bills or follow a recipe while cooking, the Alzheimer’s Association says. They may also find it hard to concentrate on tasks, take much longer to do them or have trouble finishing them.