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Dementia is a condition in which a person develops difficulties with cognitive function. This means the person has difficulty with judgment, memory or the ability to reason.

Forms of dementia

Common forms and causes of dementia include the following:

  • Alzheimer’s disease (the most common cause of dementia), characterized by a gradual decline in memory and other cognitive functions from the buildup of plaques and tangles in the brain.
  • Vascular dementia, can occur when parts of the brain do not get enough oxygen, such as after a stroke.
  • Lewy body dementia, can occur when abnormal proteins known as Lewy bodies form in the brain. This formation results in Lewy body disease. Lewy bodies are also associated with dementia that can occur in late stages of Parkinson’s disease.
  • Frontotemporal dementia, can occur when damage to nerve cells in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain causes those lobes to shrink.

Dementia symptoms

Dementia symptoms vary depending on the type of dementia you have. Some common early signs of most dementias include the following:

  • Confusion
  • Getting lost in familiar settings
  • Difficulty with complex tasks that was not previously there
  • Difficulty with language, such as not remembering the correct word for things

Dementia risk factors

Age is the biggest risk factor for dementia. Dementia younger than age 65 is not common but does occur.

Preventing dementia

While still not conclusive, research has shown that some forms of dementia, like dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease, may be prevented through lifestyle. Some factors that may help prevent dementia include the following:

  • Getting regular exercise
  • Having a “purpose” in life
  • Remaining socially active

How can I get help for dementia?

  • If you suspect you or a loved one has dementia, see your primary care physician. Most primary care physicians have the ability to diagnose and treat dementia.
  • If your primary care doctor needs additional support for your care, he or she may seek the advice of a  dementia specialist, like those at Rush. A dementia specialist can include a geriatrician (an internist or family medicine physician who focuses on older adults only), a neurologist who specializes in treating dementia, or a psychiatrist who specializes in older adults (geropsychiatrist). 

Care for dementia at Rush

  • Assessing cognitive function: Sometimes special tests are needed to understand how your dementia may be affecting different areas of your cognitive function. In those cases, your doctor may recommend you see a neuropsychologist who can administer and interpret these cognitive tests.  
  • Managing symptoms: Your health care team will focus on helping you manage your symptoms and preserve your quality of life for as long as possible. They may recommend some of the following:
  • Medications: Your doctor may prescribe medication to help with the symptoms of memory loss associated with dementia.
  • Focus on safety: Your health care team may work with you or your caregiver to ensure your home environment is safe. As dementia progresses, people become more at risk for falls, wandering or getting in an accident while driving.
  • Emotional support: A diagnosis of dementia can be frightening. Dementia specialists at Rush are here to help you. They can provide guidance for adjusting to changes and connection to available resources in your community. In addition, dementia specialists at Rush offer two support programs:
    • Family and Friends of People With Memory Loss is a monthly support and education group exclusively for caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s or another dementia.
    • Without Warning is a monthly support group for people with young onset Alzheimer’s disease and their family members. Young onset Alzheimer’s disease means people diagnosed before the age of 65.
  • Clinical trials: Dementia specialists at Rush frequently offer clinical trials of potential new treatments for Alzheimer’s and other dementias. Your primary care provider or dementia specialists may recommend you participate in a study for an investigational drug or other therapy as part of your treatment.

Why choose Rush for dementia care

  • Dementia specialists at Rush are active researchers. This means you will have access to the latest understandings of the disease, as well as other therapies to help you maintain your quality of life.
  • Dementia specialists at Rush see a high volume of patients. This experience gives them the ability to distinguish and diagnose different types of dementia and the therapies that will work better with each type. They understand and can support you and your family through the emotional experience of dementia.
  • The neurological sciences and neurological surgery programs at Rush are consistently ranked among the best in the country by U. S. News & World Report in its annual “Best Hospitals” issue.

Departments and programs that treat this condition