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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). 

Departments and programs that treat this condition