Dementia is a decline in intellectual performance from the person’s previous level of functioning and always involves memory loss. In addition, there is typically a loss of problem-solving ability and other aspects of abstract thinking. Dementia describes a group of symptoms and is not the name of a disease that causes the symptoms.

Causes of Dementia

Dementia can be caused by a number of diseases, and they may be treated differently. Some causes of dementia can be reversed and some can not.

For example, a vitamin B-12 deficiency, malnutrition, and drug interactions can cause dementia and can be treated, eliminating the symptoms. That is why it is so important to get a medical diagnosis when dementia occurs.

Alzheimer’s disease, the most frequent cause of irreversible dementia is progressive and causes structural changes in the brain. The second most common form, called multi-infarct dementia, is caused by a series of small strokes that may be undetectable when they occur, but do cumulative damage to the brain.

Memory Loss

It is important to remember that dementia is not a normal part of aging. Some memory loss is to be expected as we age. Occasional forgetfulness or taking a bit longer to recall a name or the location of an object is common and no cause for concern.

Dementia, however, is notable because of the extent, pattern, and persistence of the problem. People suffering from dementia experience it differently; some will display certain symptoms and some will display others. How do you identify changes associated with dementia? To review the warning signs of memory impairment, click here.

Behaviors Typical of Early Dementia

Often, an individual struggling with early stage dementia will exhibit characteristic behaviors, such as:

  • Denial and attempts to cover up the mistakes
  • Withdrawal from favorite activities or social interactions
  • Paranoia and general agitation, sometimes exhibited as blaming others or accusing them of stealing
  • Uncharacteristic personality changes
  • Poor judgment and confusion

What to Expect

Family members must try to remember that many of these behaviors and personality changes are outside the person’s control and their capabilities may fluctuate from day to day. However, individuals with early stages of dementia are often able to participate in their treatment, in family decisions and in planning for the future. Therefore, it is critical for the person with dementia to get a thorough medical examination as soon as possible in order to confirm the diagnosis. Even though most dementia is irreversible, much can be done to enhance the quality of life for persons with dementia and for family members.

Education and support are crucial to coping with Alzheimer’s disease and other memory disorders. For more information about memory disorders-research, treatment, caregiving tips, and support resources-click on one of the links below.  – This is the official site of the Alzheimer’s Association. Their site provides information for caregivers and professionals on such topics as research, advocacy, etc.  – This is the site for the Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral Center, based at the National Institute on Aging.  – This is the site of the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America. is the official site for the Alzheimer’s & Dementia Resource Center.  A local, independent 501(c)3 non-profit organization bringing dementia specific education and support to family and professional caregivers throughout Central Florida. Located in Orlando, Florida, its primary service area consists of Orange, Osceola and Seminole Counties.

Brain Fitness Club – community-based program that offers cognitive stimulation, light physical exercise and socialization for individuals experiencing Mild Cognitive Impairment.

Stimulating activities for Alzheimer’s patients – 10 Stimulating Activities for Alzheimer’s Patients

The Caregiver’s Guide to Car Travel with Your Loved One with Alzheimer’s

Everything You Need to Know to Prepare Your Home for a Loved One with Alzheimer’s

Dementia Care Dos & Don’ts: Dealing with Dementia Behavior Problems


Information in this article is reprinted from the Elder Care Education Series © 2000, Winter Park Health Foundation