Skip to navigation Skip to Content

Dementia

​Dementia refers to a group of brain disorders that affects memory, reasoning and communication.

Alzheimer disease is one example.

They all damage brain cells and progressively worsen with time.

The Neurosciences team of Marshfield Clinic treats all diseases and conditions of the brain, spinal chord and the networks of sensory nerve cells called neurons.

What Is Dementia?

Dementia is the name for a group of brain conditions that make it harder to remember, reason, and communicate.

The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer disease.

Other types include vascular dementia, frontotemporal dementia, and Lewy body dementia. Years ago, dementia was often called “senility.” It was even thought to be a normal part of aging.

We now know that it’s not normal. It’s caused by ongoing damage to cells in the brain.

Elderly man helped by male caregiver.

Symptoms of dementia

Symptoms differ depending on which parts of the brain are affected and the stage of the disease. The most common symptoms include:

  • Memory loss, including trouble with directions and familiar tasks

  • Language problems, such as trouble getting words out or understanding what is said

  • Difficulty with planning, organizing, concentration, and judgment. This includes people not being able to recognize their own symptoms.

  • Changes in behavior and personality

How dementia affects the brain

The brain controls all the workings of the mind and body. Some parts of the brain control memory and language.Other parts control movement and coordination.

With dementia, nerve cells in the brain are gradually damaged or destroyed. Why this happens is not yet clear. But over time, parts of the brain begin to atrophy (shrink).

Brain atrophy often starts in the part of the brain that controls memory, reasoning, and personality. Other parts of the brain may not be affected until much later in the illness.

The stages of dementia

Dementia is a progressive disease. This means it gets worse over time. Symptoms differ for each person, but there are 3 basic stages. Each may last from months to years:

  • In the early stage, a person may seem forgetful, confused, or have changes in behavior. However, he or she may still be able to handle most tasks without help.

  • In the middle stage, more and more help is needed with daily tasks. A person may have trouble recognizing friends and family members, wander, or get lost in familiar places. He or she may also become restless or moody.

  • In the late stage, Alzheimer’s can cause severe problems with memory, judgment, and other skills. Help is needed with nearly every aspect of daily life.

Treating dementia

At present, there’s no cure for dementia. But with proper care, many people can live comfortably for years: 

  • Medicines are a key part of treatment. Some types can help slow the progression of symptoms, such as memory loss. Others can help ease mood, behavior, and sleep problems. These medicines work for some people but not all.

  • Activity and exercise are good for body and mind. They may even help slow the progression of the disease. Simple, repetitive activities are good choices.

  • Regular healthcare provider visits help keep track of symptoms and overall health.

  • Sleep-wake cycle can be mixed up in patients with dementia. They may function better being up at nighttime and sleeping during the daytime.  

  • Social interactions are important to maintain.  

Request Appointment

Contact us for care

If this is a medical emergency, call 911.

Call: 1-866-520-2510

(Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. - 5 p.m.)

What Do You Know About Alzheimer's Disease?

Find out more about this degenerative disease of the brain by taking this quiz.

1. Alzheimer's is the most common form of which of these?
2. How is Alzheimer's diagnosed?
3. Physiologically, what happens to the brain as Alzheimer's progresses?
4. Which of these is the strongest risk factor for developing the disease?
5. Occasionally, other medical conditions may mimic this disease. What are they?
6. Signs of Alzheimer's include which of these symptoms?
7. Which age group has the highest rate of Alzheimer's cases reported?
8. Because no drugs cure this condition, emphasis is put on delaying the onset of severe symptoms. Which of these strategies helps?
9. The average time from the onset of symptoms to death is how long?
10. If you care for a relative with Alzheimer's, which of these measures will help stabilize the patient mentally?