What is Dementia? Does a Loved One Have It?

It can be troubling when an aging parent or other loved one becomes forgetful. Memory loss is often associated with “dementia,” which mostly occurs in older people. While some decline in mental ability is to be expected as people age, memory impairment is not a normal part of growing older. But it isn’t a de facto sign of dementia, either. Dementia-like symptoms can be caused by a number of conditions, many of which are curable. Getting a professional medical diagnosis if symptoms don’t improve quickly, and especially if they worsen, will ensure the loved one receives appropriate care as early as possible.

Defining Dementia

What is dementia? Dementia is not a disease per se. It is an umbrella term used to describe a range of symptoms such as memory loss caused by any of a number of diseases that attack areas of the brain and erode its ability to function properly.

People often use the term Alzheimer’s disease interchangeably with dementia; however, Alzheimer’s is simply the most common cause of progressive dementia. (Progressive means it gets worse over time and is irreversible). Alzheimer’s is characterized by clumps and tangles of proteins in the brain and may have a genetic basis, especially when it occurs before age 60. Other progressive dementias include:

  • Vascular dementia (second most common) – resulting from reduced or blocked blood flow to the brain
  • Lewy body dementia (more common) – marked by clumps of proteins in the brain and cognitive symptoms like Alzheimer’s along with aspects of Parkinson’s disease
  • Frontotemporal dementia (less common) – tends to occur between ages 40 and 65; characterized by the breakdown of nerve cells in the areas of the brain associated with behavior, personality, and language

Other associated progressive disorders include:

  • Huntington’s disease – affects nerves in the brain and spinal cord
  • Traumatic brain injury – caused by repetitive head trauma like what boxers and football players experience
  • HIV – the virus that causes AIDS, which can destroy brain matter
  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (rare) – inherited or caused by exposure to diseased brain or nervous system tissue
  • Movement disorders – e.g., Parkinson’s disease

On the other hand, a number of reversible and resolvable conditions can result in dementia-like symptoms, too:

  • Urinary tract infections (UTIs)
  • Infections and immune disorders (e.g., meningitis, encephalitis, untreated syphilis or Lyme disease)
  • Medication effects and interactions
  • Dehydration and nutritional deficiencies

Hope For the Future. Dementia Treatment You Can Trust.

While Alzheimer’s and other progressive dementia diseases are not yet preventable or curable, the outlook isn’t entirely bleak. Progress has been made in diagnosing and slowing the progress of these diseases.

At Carrier Clinic®, a trusted psychiatric hospital in NJ, we understand that the health of your loved ones is of the utmost importance. Our Older Adult Program offers hope and treatment for adults over 60 experiencing various acute psychiatric illnesses include Alzheimer’s and other dementias.

Because treatment options are most effective at the earliest stages of dementia, those concerned about memory loss or other symptoms of dementia are encouraged to seek diagnosis and help without delay. Please contact us if you have any questions or are seeking psychiatric hospitalization for yourself or a loved one.

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