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Dementia is a word that many of us have heard, but few of us understand. Dementia is a group of symptoms that affect thinking, memory, reasoning, planning, language and/or social skills to the point that it affects everyday life. The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s Disease, and that attributes to approximately 60-80% of all types of dementia. Because it is the most common form of dementia, people often use the two words interchangeably in conversation. Dementia is NOT a diagnosis or a specific disease. Changes that occur within the brain causing dementia are often progressive and not limited to just older adults.

People may experience symptoms that may look like dementia, but in reality the symptoms are caused by various problems. It is always recommended that if a person is concerned about their memory or language skills, they should discuss their concerns with their primary care physician, to rule out any possible medical causes for the changes they have noticed. After a person has a medical evaluation, and subsequent medical treatment (if needed), then a person can have a clearer picture on how to proceed with future plans. If a person is able to address these medical problems, the chance of improved memory and language skills are increased. If after medical workup, there is not a medical reason found for a person’s decreased memory or language skills, a person may have a form of dementia. This can be determined from further medical workup from a gerontologist, neurologist or memory clinic physician.

As mentioned earlier, there are many forms/types of dementia, and the list includes Alzheimer’s Disease, Vascular Dementia, Lewy Body Dementia, and Frontotemporal Dementia Disorders. These types of dementia are caused by physical changes in the brain that lead to brain cell death, changes interrupt the way information is processed and the way emotions are regulated, and the way it affects each person is unique. Predicting progression depends on many factors beyond diagnosis, and rates of progression differ from person to person. Individuals that have underlying heart conditions, diabetes and those who have had several strokes or infections are likely to have faster deterioration. Dementia is likely to limit life expectancy.

Early detection matters, and if a person does have a form of dementia, there are changes that can possibly help preserve quality of life for some time longer, in some individuals. If you or a loved one is concerned about changes in memory, thinking or reasoning, talk to your doctor about it. It may be something medically causing those changes.

Teresa Clement is the ADRC of Marinette County Dementia Care Specialist. If you are interested in dementia resources or have questions about dementia, please call Clement at 715-732-3850.