Dementia is a disorder of the brain caused by injury or disease. The disorder itself impacts memory, judgement, thinking, language, and behavior. Most types are degenerative, meaning they get worse with time and cannot be reversed. Alzheimer’s disease is the most known type of dementia but lewy body disease is actually the leading cause of dementia in older adults. People who suffer from this condition have abnormal protein structures in certain parts of the brain. Dementia can also be the result of several small strokes, known as vascular dementia.


Risk Factors and Causes

Risk factors include: advanced age, family history, and heredity. Though dementia is not a normal part of aging, old age appears to significantly increase your risk. Genetics also play a role in some forms of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s. If you have someone in your family who suffers from dementia, you are more likely to suffer yourself.

Dementia is also caused by a number of medical conditions that can affect the brain including: Huntington’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Pick’s disease, progressive supranuclear palsy, and infections .

Other conditions may also result in dementia, including: brain injury, chronic alcohol abuse, changes in blood sugar, calcium and sodium levels, brain tumors, vitamin B12 deficiency, and the use of certain medications. If dementia is traced to one of these causes and found early enough, it may be stopped or even reversed.



Dementia symptoms vary from person to person. Patients also progress at different rates according to treatment, severity, and presentation of specific symptoms. The most common first symptom is forgetfulness, but others include trouble with many areas of mental function, such as: memory, perception, language, cognitive skills, and emotional behavior or personality. Simply being forgetful doesn’t mean you have dementia, but if you notice other symptoms, seek medical advice as soon as possible.



Diagnosis begins with a physical exam and documenting a person’s medical history. Part of the physical exam will include a neurological exam, along with tests to check mental function. Tests to check mental function will involve questions about name, location, date, etc. to see how much the person knows and what they believe to be true. Doctors may order other tests to determine whether there are other problems causing or worsening the dementia, including: depression, medication intoxication, chronic infection, anemia, brain tumor, vitamin deficiency, and thyroid disease. A variety of additional tests and procedures may be ordered, such as: B12 level, toxicology screen, blood gas analysis and chemistry, CT, MRI, thyroid function tests, etc.


Types and Stages

Types of dementia include: Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, and lewy body dementia. Other types also exist. Typically, Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia have seven stages:

  • Stage 1: No impairment; this is normal function.
  • Stage 2: Very mild decline; memory lapses, no symptoms of dementia detected by medical examination
  • Stage 3: Mild decline; early stages may be diagnosed in some, but not all people who show warning signs.
  • Stage 4: Moderate decline; this is mild or early stage Alzheimer’s.
  • Stage 5: Moderately severe decline; at this stage, people may not be able to remember their address, phone number, etc.
  • Stage 6: Severe decline; may not be able to remember people, may need help with dressing, etc.
  • Stage 7: Very severe decline; loss of ability to respond to environment, carry on conversation, etc.



The prognosis varies, depending on the type and stage of dementia. The earlier the symptoms are caught, the more likely medication can help control behavioral issues and confusion. Most forms of dementia prevent independent living; sufferers frequently require daily supervision or residential senior care. Psychological therapy may cause confusion in later phases; however, there are therapeutic approaches to accommodate symptoms. Unfortunately, dementia will likely progress and decrease the quality of life over time; ultimately many experience a shortened lifespan.


Improving Prognosis

The majority of dementia cases are not preventable. Many cases are caused by old age or injury therefore there is little preventative advice. Eating a healthy, low-fat diet and exercising regularly can reduce the risk of countless diseases and illnesses, including dementia. Quitting smoking, controlling diabetes, and managing blood pressure can help reduce your risk of developing vascular dementia. If symptoms worsen, or you are unable to care for a person with dementia in the home, call a healthcare provider immediately.



The information provided on this site is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material found on this website is intended to promote and encourage consumer understanding and should not be considered alternative or supplementary medical advice. If you have any concerns regarding your health or physical condition, seek the advice of a licensed qualified healthcare provider. Be sure to discuss any changes or concerns with your doctor before beginning a new healthcare regimen, undergoing any procedures, or changing current healthcare plans. Seniors and Health does not claim medical representation and assumes no responsibility in the accuracy of the information available on this website.

To learn about other common health concerns among senior, check out our Health and Conditions page; we also provide information on senior care options on our Assisted Living page.

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About the Author: Victoria K. Stickley is a copywriter, editor, and senior content manager based in the Dallas area. Her graduate education in counseling and research has helped immensely in her writing as well as the care she provides for her grandparents. She currently provides support and resources to senior care websites as she learns and experiences senior care first-hand.