Understanding dementia: Symptoms, causes, types, and treatment

Understanding dementia: Symptoms, causes, types, and treatment

Ahmed Raza

Dementia is characterized by the loss of cognitive functioning involving thinking, reasoning, and remembering. Some people suffering from dementia face difficulty in controlling their emotions which consequently affects their daily life, personality, and activities.

The mildest stage affects a person’s functioning, and the severe stage makes a person completely dependent on others for their activities of daily living.

Presently, about 55 million people suffer from dementia worldwide, and almost 10 million new cases are registered annually. The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer disease.

The chances of dementia increase as the age of the person increases. However, it cannot be considered a normal part of aging.

Signs and symptoms of dementia

The effects of dementia affect each person differently depending upon the cause, co-existing health conditions, and cognitive functioning of the person. The signs and symptoms are divided into the following three stages.

Early-stage dementia The onset of the early stage of dementia is gradual and mostly overlooked. Common symptoms of this stage may include:

Middle stage dementia The signs and symptoms of the middle stage of dementia become more clear. The person may face the following symptoms:

Late-stage The late-stage of dementia is characterized by total or near-total dependence on others. The physical signs and symptoms become obvious and memory disturbances become more serious. The symptoms of late-stage dementia include:

Causes and risk factors

The causes of dementia vary depending upon the changes occurring in the brain. In most cases, the underlying causes are unknown. However some changes in the brain are related to certain types of dementia. Genetic mutation may cause dementia, but these cases are rare.

The following risk factors include:

Age The most common risk factor of dementia is increasing age. Most of the cases of dementia are reported in people above 65 years of age.

Family history A person whose parents or siblings have dementia is more at risk than those who do not have any family history of dementia.

Race or ethnicity Hispanics are 1.5 more likely to get dementia as compared to whites. And African Americans are at twice the risk as compared to whites. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describe racism as a fundamental cause of these health inequities, disparities, and disease.

Poor heart health High cholesterol, hypertension, and smoking increase the risk of dementia if they are not controlled or treated properly.

Traumatic brain injury Traumatic brain injuries, like severe head injuries, also increase the risk of dementia.

Types of dementia

Some types of dementia are reversible. However, irreversible types of dementia significantly impact families. These chronic types of dementia include:

Alzheimer disease Alzheimer disease is the most common cause of dementia. Around 60% to 80% of cases of dementia are Alzheimer disease. It is caused by certain changes that occur in the brain.

The most common symptom is forgetting recent events and difficulty remembering distant memories. Other signs include changes in talking, ambulation (walking), or personality traits.

The mutation of specific genes increases the risk for Alzheimer disease. The risk of developing Alzheimer disease increases by 10 to 30 percent if the first-degree relative has the disease.

Vascular dementia Vascular dementia is characterized by strokes and interrupted blood flow to the damaged vessels that oxygenate the brain. This problem with the blood vessels can eventually cause a stroke.

The other risk factors include:

The size and area of the brain affected determines the extent of signs and symptoms of the disease. Often, these symptoms are more noticeable than the memory loss in this disease. However, the most common signs of vascular dementia include:

Lewy body dementia Lewy body dementia (LBD) is associated with abnormal protein deposits of alpha-synuclein in the brain that affect brain chemicals. People with LBD face problems in movement and balancing due to either trembling or stiffness.

Other symptoms include changes in alertness including confusion, staring spells, or daytime sleepiness. One suffering from this type of dementia may experience hallucinations, insomnia, mood or behavior changes, uncoordinated or slow movement, tremors, or rigidity.

Fronto-temporal dementia This type of dementia is characterized by changes in behavior, language, and personality due to changes in a particular part of the brain. People suffering from fronto-temporal dementia experience significant behavioral conditions, including making offensive comments or neglecting work. The most common symptoms affect thinking, language, thinking, personality, behavior, and movement.

Mixed dementia In people aged 80 or above, more than one type of dementia can be present in the brain at the same time. For instance, a person may suffer from vascular dementia and Alzheimer disease at the same time.

Mixed dementia is often hard to determine because the symptoms of one type of dementia may overlap the symptoms of the other type.

The disease progression is relatively faster in mixed dementia.


The treatment of dementia is determined by the underlying cause. Neurodegenerative dementias such as Alzheimer disease cannot be cured. However medications are used to protect the brain from damage and to manage symptoms, such as behavior disorders and anxiety. There are many ongoing types of research to help doctors improve dementia treatment.

Ways to decrease the risk of dementia include:

Works cited

Last reviewed and updated by on Oct 3, 2022

Caitlin Goodwin, DNP, RN, CNM, is a Board Certified Nurse-Midwife, Registered Nurse, and freelance writer. She has over twelve years of experience in nursing practice.

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