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Dementia Overview

Dementia Overview

Dementia is a decline or loss of reasoning, memory, and other mental abilities (the cognitive functions such as judgment, thinking, behavior, and language). This decline eventually impairs the ability to carry out everyday activities such as driving; household chores; and even personal care such as bathing, dressing, and feeding (often called activities of daily living, or ADLs).

  • Dementia is most common in elderly people; it used to be called senility and was considered a normal part of aging.
  • We now know that dementia is not a normal part of aging but is caused by a number of underlying medical conditions that can occur in both elderly and younger persons.
  • In some cases, dementia can be reversed with proper medical treatment. In others, it is permanent and usually gets worse over time.

About 4 to 5 million people in the United States have some degree of dementia, and that number will increase over the next few decades with the aging of the population; the following percentages are estimates and all forms of dementia are considered in these estimates:

  • Dementia affects about 1% of people aged 60 to 64 years and as many as 30% to 50% of people older than 85 years.
  • It is the leading reason for placing elderly people in institutions such as nursing homes.

Dementia is a very serious condition that results in significant financial and human costs.

  • Many people with dementia eventually become totally dependent on others for their care.
  • Although people with dementia typically remain fully conscious, the loss of short- and long-term memory in part or in full, are universal.
  • People with dementia also experience declines in any or all areas of intellectual functioning, for example, use of language and numbers; awareness of what is going on around him or her; judgment; and the ability to reason, solve problems, and think abstractly.
  • These losses not only impair a person's ability to function independently, but also have a negative impact on quality of life and relationships.

Many older people fear that they are developing dementia because they cannot find their glasses or remember someone's name.

  • These very common problems are most often due to a much less serious condition involving slowing of mental processes with age.
  • Medical professionals call this "benign senescent forgetfulness," or "age-related memory loss."
  • Although this condition is a nuisance, it does not impair a person's ability to learn new information, solve problems, or carry out everyday activities, as dementia does.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/17/2013

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Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

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Delirium, dementia, amnesia, and certain other alterations in cognition are subsumed under more general terms such as mental status change (MSC), acute confusional state (ACS), or organic brain syndrome (OBS).

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