As people age, it is common for some brain functions to slow down i.e. recall of names or events. Memory loss that disrupts everyday life is not part of the normal aging process. It is a symptom of dementia.

Dementia is a general term for the loss of an individual’s cognitive capabilities, i.e. memory, judgment, though process and reasoning abilities.

Not too long ago, people called dementia “senilty” and thought it was a natural part of growing old. We now know that dementia happens because of a disease process.

An estimated 10% of people over the age of 65 and 47% of people over the age of 85 suffer from dementia. Forty to sixty percent of people with dementia develop psychiatric complications.

Although irreversible forms of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s Disease (the most common cause of irreversible dementia), do occur with greater frequency in old age, many other cases of dementia are brought on by medical conditions that can be arrested or reveres.

There are over 70 different illness that can cause or mimic dementia including depression, thyroid disorders, infections, nutritional deficiencies and drug reactions.

Some dementia-like symptoms might be caused by delirium, which is a physical response to illness or medications that results in more confusion, disorientation, psychosis and bizarre behavior. Delirium must be treated immediately.

Symptoms of dementia include:

  • Difficulty performing familiar tasks: forgetting steps to everyday routines, i.e. how to use common items or how to participate in a favorite hobby.
  • Problems with native language: forgetting simple words, inability to put together a sentence, substituting unusual words
  • Disorientation to time and place: getting lost in familiar places, disorientation to general time of day i.e. thinking it is morning when it is night
  • Changes in personalilty: usually marked by fear, suspicion and blaming of others withdrawal from people, social situations and/or activites that they use to enjoy.
  • Changes in mood and behavior: more rapid and pronounced mood swings, depression, impulsive or abrupt behavior.