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Dementia - Topic Overview

Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia. This topic focuses on other conditions that cause dementia. For more information on Alzheimer's, see the topic Alzheimer's Disease.

We all forget things as we get older. Many older people have a slight loss of memory that does not affect their daily lives. But memory loss that gets worse may mean that you have dementia.

Dementia is a loss of mental skills that affects your daily life. It can cause problems with your memory and how well you can think and plan. Usually dementia gets worse over time. How long this takes is different for each person. Some people stay the same for years. Others lose skills quickly.

Your chances of having dementia rise as you get older. But this doesn't mean that everyone will get it.

If you or a loved one has memory loss that is getting worse, see your doctor. It may be nothing to worry about. If it is dementia, treatment may help.

Dementia is caused by damage to or changes in the brain. Things that can cause dementia include:

In a few cases, dementia is caused by a problem that can be treated. Examples include having an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism), not getting enough vitamin B12, and fluid buildup in the brain (normal-pressure hydrocephalus). In these cases, treating the problem may help the dementia.

In some people, depression can cause memory loss that seems like dementia. Depression can be treated.

As you age, medicines may affect you more. Taking some medicines together may cause symptoms that look like dementia. Be sure your doctor knows about all of the medicines you take. This means all prescription medicines and all over-the-counter medicines, herbs, vitamins, and supplements.

Usually the first symptom is memory loss. Often the person who has a memory problem doesn't notice it, but family and friends do. As dementia gets worse:

  • You may have more trouble doing things that take planning, like making a list and going shopping.
  • You may have trouble using or understanding words.
  • You may get lost in places you know well.

Over time, people with dementia may begin to act very differently. They may become scared and strike out at others, or they may become clingy and childlike. They may stop brushing their teeth or bathing.

Later, they cannot take care of themselves. They may not know where they are. They may not know their loved ones when they see them.

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