Dementia- What Is It?

by | Nov 3, 2017 | Dementia


You are not alone and asking this question about dementia. There’s no telling how many searches online people are doing every day to find an answer. There are over three million people in the US alone that have been diagnosed with some form of dementia.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “Dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life.”

There are many different types of dementia.


Dementia is commonly referred to as an umbrella term. There many different types of dementia that fall under this umbrella.

Probably the most common and the most widely known type of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease according to the Alzheimer’s Association it makes up for about 60 to 80% of all dementia out there so it’s not surprising that most people think of Alzheimer’s when they think of dementia, not Alzheimer’s just like every other type of dementia presents a certain set of symptoms. The most common symptom of Alzheimer’s disease is a loss of short-term memory. This is what most people think of when they think of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. But dementia is so much more than memory loss.

Alzheimer’s Disease


Most people with Alzheimer’s disease live about 8 years after a diagnosis. However, Alzheimer’s disease can literally last years, sometimes as many as 20 years or more. In the very beginning stages, a person with Alzheimer’s disease may not even be aware that they have a problem. People close to them may start noticing short-term memory problems. Families may notice the person asking or repeating the same stories over and over and over again. They may also notice that their loved one seems unable to make decisions.

The Beginning Stages


Dementia- Beginning Stages

In the beginning stage people with Alzheimer’s disease are still able to function pretty well with maybe just a little bit of help. Often, it’s the spouse that offers this help. A couple that’s married will often work very closely together. Many times, they will not let other people know about the diagnosis.

The spouse without the disease will help to cover up problems their spouse may have. As such, they will often take over the conversation when they see that their spouse is having problems. A lot of times adult children are surprised to find out that one of their parents has Alzheimer’s disease. Especially if they live out of town it can be easy to hide the problem from your adult child.


But Eventually, The Problem Will Escalate


Mid and late stage Alzheimer’s disease can present a host of different problems. Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease and the symptoms will get worse with time. In late-stage Alzheimer’s disease, the person may not even be able to talk. If they do talk they may not be able to carry on a conversation or even make sense to the person listening to them.  Mid to Late-stage Alzheimer’s will present many other problems. Someone in this stage will need help with basic tasks of daily living. Simple tasks like going to the bathroom and feeding themselves, getting dressed and even walking will require assistance.

This Disease Will Progress


Families need to understand that at some point they will need help. Even though it may seem manageable today the disease is progressive.  And the more you’re open to accepting and receiving help the better you’re going to be able to handle the situations that come with this disease.

Dementia Umbrella

But Alzheimer’s Disease is just one type of dementia. There are a lot of types under this umbrella. Another type that’s pretty common is Vascular Dementia. Vascular dementia is usually caused when someone has had a stroke or a TIA. Vascular dementia is the second most common type of dementia.


A Common Type of Dementia- Vascular Dementia


Someone with vascular dementia may have very different symptoms, especially in the beginning. Depending on the severity of the stroke or the number of strokes and the area of the brain that was damaged the symptoms can vary. Sometimes memory loss is not as a noticeable a symptom as it is an Alzheimer’s disease.

“Looking back now I realize that my mother-in-law had probably had a number of TIA’s. These little small mini-strokes led to her eventual dementia. It was confusing though because one day she would be just fine and the next day she would be off. I don’t know how to really describe it, sometimes she had a little bit of memory loss but other times she just seemed terribly confused. She also made up a lot of stories I think it was to compensate for her own confusion.”

Poor Decisions

One of the things I really noticed was that she was making poor decisions. For instance, one day I called her and she told me that there was a strange man in her house. Frightened I asked her to let me speak to the man. Come to find out the man worked for Dish TV he said that she had signed up for internet and TV service with them and he was the man responsible for connecting her up.


I tried to explain to him that she didn’t even have a computer so why would she need internet service. But he told me he had his work order and he had to do the work. It took my husband several months to untangle this mess. Pat didn’t even know how to use the new TV. She called my husband daily asking how to turn on her TV. We lived 4 hours away! That was when I started realizing there was a big problem. I just didn’t know what it was”. K daughter-in-law

Lewy Body DementiaAnother type of dementia that’s gotten a lot of press lately is Lewy Body Dementia.


Robin Williams was thought to have had dementia with Lewy bodies or Lewy Body dementia. Someone with Lewy Body dementia may have memory problems similar to that of Alzheimer’s. But they will also have a lot of other symptoms that really stand out.

There will be symptoms such as:

  • Changes in thinking and reasoning
  • Visual hallucinations
  • Vivid dreams -The person will often act out these dreams, sometimes even violently.
  • Many have trouble interpreting visual information such as reading signs


In this type of dementia, it is common for the symptoms to change drastically from one day to the next. This causes added confusion for the family who’s not sure whether they’re Imagining the symptoms at all. One day, Mom seems perfectly fine and the next day she’s not there at all. She’s confused and agitated and may even have delusions.

When Someone’s Behavior Changes Drastically


Brain Anatomy- Dementia


Frontotemporal Dementia is a type of dementia that can be very challenging for families. A type of frontotemporal dementia called behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD) can cause drastic changes in one’s personality and behavior.



“I’m not quite sure what to do! Dad has never behaved this way before. He and Mom have been married almost 60 years. I feel like they always got along really well. But he hit mom really hard. She’s confused and so am I. We don’t know what to do. I love my dad. He doesn’t seem to remember hitting mom.” Tom adult child

In this type, there seems to be prominent nerve cell loss in the areas that control judgment, empathy, conduct, and foresight. Having a proper diagnosis can mean getting the right treatment. Not having the right diagnosis can be devastating for everyone involved.

Speaking But Not Making Sense?


Primary Progressive Aphasia is another form of frontotemporal dementia and it affects primarily language. This type usually happens before age 65 but can happen later in life. A person with this type of dementia may have trouble understanding language or forming a coherent sentence.

If you think that dementia may be a problem it’s important to get a good evaluation from a doctor. you don’t want to go to just any doctor though. If you had a broken leg you wouldn’t go see an ear eyes nose and throat specialist, would you? Likewise, if you have a neurological problem or you suspect that you may, you want to see a neurologist. The Alzheimer’s Association has a list of doctors who specialize in these types of diseases. They can help you find someone in your area who can get to the bottom of what’s really going on.

Follow this blog as we discover more about the world of dementia.


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