What is Dementia?

Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are often viewed as the same illness but they are actually different. Dementia is a group of symptoms where Alzheimer’s disease is the neurological cause of damage in the brain. Consider it like this; a cough is a symptom for asthma, allergies, COPD, smoking, medication side effect virus or bacteria, etc. So in this analogy the cough is to asthma as dementia is to Alzheimer’s disease. Dementia is a general term that indicates an impaired ability to do everyday tasks that involve remembering, thinking, and making decisions. It is not normal aging and encompasses over 80 different diseases.

The top three irreversible dementia causing diseases are Alzheimer’s, Vascular Dementia and Lewy Body Dementia. There are many reversible causes of dementia such as depression, lack of sleep, poor nutrition, side effects from medication, hormone imbalances, etc. It is very important to see your primary healthcare provider to determine if your memory loss concerns are due to a reversible reason or a progressive disease. It is scary to think of having memory issues, but being tested is very important for your future independence. It also provides the opportunity for you to communicate with your family and friends and wishes you have for the future.

Some examples of future planning include: letting your family know where you would like to live if you are no longer safe at home, who you would like to take care of finances or medical care, your end of life wishes such as CPR, as well as time to share stories and memories so those who might care for you in the future can know you better. You can be part of the conversation while allowing your family and friends the gift of understanding, time, and preparation.