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Alzheimer's Disease Health Center

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Dementia - Topic Overview

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.

There is no single test for dementia. To diagnose it, your doctor will:

  • Do a physical exam.
  • Ask questions about recent and past illnesses and life events. The doctor will want to talk to a close family member to check details.
  • Ask you to do some simple things that test your memory and other mental skills. Your doctor may ask you to tell what day and year it is, repeat a series of words, or draw a clock face.

The doctor may do tests to look for a cause that can be treated. For example, you might have blood tests to check your thyroid or to look for an infection. You might also have a test that shows a picture of your brain, like an MRI or a CT scan. These tests can help your doctor find a tumor or brain injury.

There are medicines you can take for dementia. They cannot cure it, but they can slow it down for a while and make it easier to live with.

As dementia gets worse, a person may get depressed or angry and upset. An active social life, counseling, and sometimes medicine may help with changing emotions.

If a stroke caused the dementia, there are things you can do to reduce the chance of another stroke. Make healthy lifestyle changes including eating healthy, being active, staying at a healthy weight, and not smoking. Manage other health problems, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

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