Aging & Health A to Z
Basic Facts & Information
What is Dementia?
As many as 7% of adults aged 60 and older suffer from dementia—a decline in memory and other mental abilities that make daily living difficult.
Dementia takes a toll on those who suffer from it as well as on their caregivers. Along with problems with memory, language and decision-making abilities, dementia can cause other symptoms. These include changes in mood, such as increased irritability, depression and anxiety. They also include changes in personality and behavior.
Forgetting someone’s name, having trouble “finding” the word you want to use, or feeling irritable, however, does not necessarily mean you have dementia. It’s not unusual for people older than 60 to have mild, occasional, short-term memory loss. And a variety of health problems can cause some of the same symptoms as dementia. Depression, for example, can cause temporary confusion and memory problems.
But if problems with memory, language or thinking seem to be getting worse over time and are affecting your day-to-day life, talk to a healthcare professional. He or she can help determine why this is happening and what to do about it.
If you or someone you care for has dementia, knowing about it sooner rather than later will give you time to decide what kind of treatments are available and what kind of future care planning needs to occur. It will also allow you to learn about available support and services so that you can make arrangements in advance. With support, most people with dementia can live and be cared for at home until their symptoms become severe, and sometimes, even after that happens. Knowing early can also allow you to write an advanced directive that explains the kind of care you do and do not want in the future. This legal document helps ensure that your wishes are followed even if you are no longer able to communicate.
Visit the Alzheimer’s Association's website for a list of 10 possible warning signs of Alzheimer’s.
Updated: March 2012
Posted: March 2012