What is Dementia?

Dementia refers to a group of conditions that result in the deterioration of intellectual functions, such as remembering, thinking, and judgement, which has become severe enough to hinder everyday activities and social relationships. Short term memory is disturbed well in advance of long term memory. The person may have difficulty communicating in writing and speech. They may develop difficulty with using or naming objects. Becoming disoriented even in familiar surroundings may be a problem. Behavioral problems including aggressiveness, agitation, hallucinations and wandering may occur in later stages of the disease. There are many causes of Dementia, but the three main types are: Reversible, Pseudo, and Progressive Dementia. No one test can establish the diagnosis of Dementia, but your Neurologist will outline the most effective testing to identify your condition clearly.


These are conditions that potentially can be treated and resolved, such as: chronic Hydrocephalus and normal pressure Hydrocephalus, vitamin deficiency (i.e., B12, Thiamine), Hypothyroidism, and Neurosyphilis or Lymes Disease.


These conditions mimic the symptoms of Dementia but are caused by diseases such as: depression, excessive daytime sleepiness, and medication toxicity. Several very satisfactory treatments are available for these situations.


These are conditions that have no specific cure and gradually cause further mental and physical decline, such as: Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), Multi-Infarct (Vascular) Dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and Lewy body Dementia. Treatment can improve many of the symptoms, improve the quality of life and slow progression of the disease.

Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common dementia in the United States. There are three stages that most people will experience. The length of the stage and severity of symptoms will vary from person to person.

Currently there are 4 million people afflicted. The incidence of developing the disease increases with age. Scientists are unsure what really causes AD but have discovered deposits (called plaques) and strands of fibers (called tangles) present in the brains of people with the disease. Family history, as well as head injuries which have occurred in earlier life, may increase the likelihood of developing AD.

Signs and symptoms

Mild (First Stage)
Generally lasts from 2 to 4 years

  • Word finding difficulty
  • Memory loss of recent events
  • Getting lost easily in unfamiliar surroundings
  • Unusually quiet or forgetful
  • Constantly repeating themselves

Moderate (Second Stage)
Usually the longest from 2 to 10 years

  • Pace the floor and wander away from home
  • Have trouble recognizing friends
  • Neglect bathing and grooming
  • Become anxious, agitated or suspicious
  • Have difficulty reading or writing
  • May wander at night and naps frequently

Severe (Third Stage)
Usually from 1 to 3 years

  • Unable to speak or understand words
  • Unable to use muscles to walk or swallow
  • Unable to control bladder and bowel functions
  • Unable to recognize family or surroundings

When it is not safe for the patient to live alone, he or she usually will need a full time caregiver. Assistance with personal care, transportation and supervision of medications also will be necessary.

What services are available to us?

Home care services can be initiated if the diagnosis is new or if the symptoms have recently increased or medications have been changed. Nursing, Physical Therapy, Home Health Aides and Social Workers are available. The nurse will evaluate and coordinate the services that are needed. These services are covered by Medicare and most insurances. They are for a limited period of time. Be sure to discuss this with your physician.

How do I cope as  caregiver?

This is a difficult time for the caregiver and you may benefit from several coping mechanisms. Attending support groups, individual counseling, developing a daily schedule for the patient and setting aside some personal time for yourself, will keep you from becoming overtaxed. Hiring professional assistance for the patient’s care and letting other family members help is important. Finally, considering an adult day care service or an assisted living arrangement may be in both the patient’s and caregiver’s best interest.

For more information, please contact:

The Alzheimer’s Association

Alzwell, Caregiver Page