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The Alzheimer's Association defines dementia as a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life.  Dementia is not a specific disease. It's an overall term that describes a group of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person's ability to perform everyday activities. 


There are several different types of dementia. Examples include Alzheimer's disease, Vascular dementia, Dementia from Parkinson's disease and similar disorders, Dementia with Lewy bodies, Frontotemporal dementia (Pick's disease), and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

Dementia is caused by damage to brain cells. This damage interferes with the ability of brain cells to communicate with each other. When brain cells cannot communicate normally, thinking, behavior and feelings can be affected. There is no one test to determine if someone has dementia. Doctors diagnose Alzheimer's and other types of dementia based on a careful medical history, a physical examination, laboratory tests, and the characteristic changes in thinking, day-to-day function and behavior associated with each type.



Many dementias are progressive, meaning symptoms start out slowly and gradually get worse. While symptoms of dementia can vary greatly, at least two of the following core mental functions must be significantly impaired to be considered dementia:

  • Memory

  • Communication and language

  • Ability to focus and pay attention

  • Reasoning and judgment

  • Visual perception


Alzheimer's is the most common cause of dementia (60%-80% occurrence) and progressive disease, with the greatest known risk factor being increasing age. Alzheimer's has no current cure, but treatments for symptoms are available and research continues.

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