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Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jun 6, 2022.

What is dementia?

Dementia is a condition that causes loss of memory, thought control, and judgment. Alzheimer disease is the most common cause of dementia. Other common causes are loss of blood flow or nerve damage in the brain, and long-term alcohol or drug use. Dementia cannot be cured or prevented, but treatment may slow or reduce your symptoms.

What increases my risk for dementia?

  • A family history of dementia
  • Diseases such as diabetes or high blood pressure
  • A head injury, brain tumor, or stroke
  • Toxins such as alcohol or cigarette smoke
  • Lack of activity or exercise
  • Viruses and bacteria that cause illnesses such as HIV and syphilis

What are the signs and symptoms of dementia?

Dementia may develop quickly over a few months after a head injury or stroke. It may develop slowly over many years if you have Alzheimer disease. Your memory and other mental abilities may decline steadily. They may stay the same for a time and then decline again. You may have any of the following:

  • Loss of short-term memory, followed by loss of long-term memory
  • Trouble remembering to go to the bathroom to urinate or have a bowel movement
  • Anger, or violent behavior
  • Depression, anxiety, or hallucinations (you see or hear things that are not real)

How is dementia diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask you or someone close to you about your symptoms. He or she will ask when your symptoms began, and if they have gotten worse with time. He or she may also ask if you have any family members with dementia.

  • Mental function testing checks how well you think and solve problems. You may be asked to draw a face clock. The clock may need to show a certain time of day. You may be asked what month it currently is, or the city you are in. Other tests may be used to check your attention, language skills, or ability to see how objects are spaced apart.
  • Memory testing will be done regularly so healthcare providers can monitor memory changes over time. Healthcare providers will test your long-term memory by asking questions about how much you remember from the past. They will also test your short-term memory by asking you to remember new facts.
  • Blood tests may be used to rule out any other conditions that could be causing your symptoms. Some temporary conditions may be similar to dementia but can be treated.
  • An MRI or CT scan can help healthcare providers find damage to your brain caused by dementia. The pictures may also show an injury or blood flow problems. You may be given contrast liquid before the pictures are taken. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.

How is dementia treated?

The goal of treatment is to help you keep your current health for as long as possible. You may need any of the following:

  • Dementia medicines may be used to help slow the decline in your memory.
  • Antipsychotics may be used to help improve your behavior, and control anger or violence.
  • Antianxiety medicine may be used to help reduce anxiety and keep you calm.
  • Antidepressants may be used to help improve your mood and reduce your symptoms of depression.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

How can I manage dementia?

You may begin to need an in-home aide to help you remember your daily tasks. Ask your healthcare provider for a list of organizations that can help. It is best to arrange for help while you are thinking clearly. The following may also help you manage dementia:

  • Keep your mind and body active. Do activities that you love, such as art, gardening, or listening to music. Call or visit people often. This will keep your social skills sharp, and may help reduce depression.
  • Take all of your medicines as directed. This will help control medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
  • Write daily schedules and routines. Record medical appointments, times to take your medicines, meal times, or any other things to remember. Write down reminders to use the bathroom if you have trouble remembering. You may need to ask someone to write things down for you.
  • Place clocks and calendars where you can see them. This will help you remember appointments and tasks.
  • Do not smoke. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can cause blood vessel damage. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use these products.
  • Eat healthy foods. Examples are fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, lean meats, and fish. Ask if you need to be on a special diet.

When should I or someone close to me seek immediate care?

  • You have signs of delirium, such as extreme confusion, and seeing or hearing things that are not there.
  • You become angry or violent, and cannot be calmed down.
  • You faint and cannot be woken.

When should I or someone close to me call my doctor?

  • You have a fever.
  • You have increased confusion, behavior, or mood changes.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.