Common Signs And Causes Of Dementia That Everyone Should Know About

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox
Updated February 26, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Dementia can be defined as a loss of intellectual abilities. For a dementia diagnosis, there must usually be an impairment in at least two areas, such as memory, language and communication skills, visual perception, and focus. Although dementia is typically progressive and irreversible, early detection and treatment can help patients manage their symptoms and maintain their quality of life longer. Risk factors can involve age, gender, genetics, cardiovascular health, and lifestyle factors. Therapy can be an important part of treatment, both for those with dementia and their caregivers.

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Coping with a dementia diagnosis?

Types of dementia

There can be many types of dementia. Alzheimer's disease tends to be the most common cause of dementia and is responsible for about 60% to 80% of dementia cases. Other types of dementia can include the following:

  • Vascular Dementia: Caused by a stroke blocking a brain artery or other issues leading to impaired blood flow to the brain

  • Dementia With Lewy Bodies (DLB): Caused by abnormal deposits that can damage the brain gradually

  • Mixed Dementia: When two or more types of dementia are present simultaneously

  • Parkinson's Disease: A neurodegenerative disease in which the brain’s nerve cells break down or die

  • Frontotemporal Dementia: A rare disorder that can affect areas of the brain responsible for language, personality, and behavior

  • Early-Onset Alzheimer's Disease: A form of Alzheimer's disease that appears before the age of 65, often during middle age, and can be linked to a family history of genetic mutations 

  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease: A very rare brain disorder that typically progresses quicker than other forms of dementia

  • Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus: Caused by the abnormal build-up of cerebral spinal fluid, also known as Hakim's syndrome

  • Huntington's Disease: A hereditary form of dementia characterized by physical, emotional, and mental symptoms, also known as Huntington's chorea

  • Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome: A brain disorder caused by a vitamin B-1 (thiamine) deficiency

Each type of dementia is typically related to different causes, symptoms, and changes that can happen in the brain. Other health conditions that may cause dementia or similar symptoms can include argyrophilic grain disease, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, and HIV-associated dementia.

Different health factors may worsen or increase the risk of dementia or dementia-like conditions. High blood pressure, thyroid problems, and Down syndrome may be more likely to develop dementia. In addition, factors like low blood sugar levels may cause dementia-like conditions, temporarily mimicking the symptoms of dementia. For this reason, it can be key to manage one’s own health to potentially reduce the risk or severity of specific disease-related dementia symptoms. 

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Early symptoms and signs of dementia

Dementia affects all facets of life. Many signs of dementia may be pinpointed, depending on the cause of dementia and how far it has progressed. In general, at least two of these important mental functions must be significantly affected to receive a diagnosis of dementia:

  • Memory

  • Communication and language

  • Ability to focus and pay attention

  • Reasoning and judgment

  • Visual perception

Some of the early warning signs of dementia are listed below:

  • Short-term memory loss

  • Decreased or poor judgment

  • Difficulty planning and problem-solving

  • Changes in mood and personality

  • Difficulty completing familiar tasks

  • Confusing time and place

  • Often forgetting to pay monthly bills

  • Trouble with visual and spatial abilities

  • Written or verbal speech difficulties

  • Impaired decision making

  • Misplacing things and having trouble retracing steps

  • Repeatedly asking for assistance from family members  

  • Withdrawing from work and social activities

Some memory loss can be normal, especially as we age. Almost everyone might forget what day of the week it is occasionally or walk into a room forgetting why they entered it. The key may be being able to distinguish when memory loss becomes abnormal, such as when a loved one starts to forget what year it is or has trouble getting home via a route they are very familiar with.

If you are worried that you or someone you know might be developing dementia, it can be crucial to seek medical attention. Your doctor can give you a thorough examination to determine whether you have dementia and rule out other treatable causes of memory loss, like depression, substance use, and vitamin deficiency.

There usually aren't any straightforward tests that you can take to see if you have dementia. Your doctor may instead look at your medical history and mental status, along with performing various examinations (physical and neurological) and tests (blood tests and brain scans) to form a conclusion.

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Coping with a dementia diagnosis?

Causes of dementia

There may be as many causes of dementia as there are types of dementia. Although some causes of dementia may be out of your control, like age and genetics, other risk factors can be managed with a healthy lifestyle.

In general, dementia is caused by damaged brain cells. This damage can make it difficult for brain cells to communicate with one another, potentially impacting brain function. Different types of dementia can involve brain cell damage to specific brain regions. In time, many causes of brain cell damage can increase dementia risk.

A few of the risk factors for dementia, including controllable and uncontrollable risk factors, can include the following:

  • Age: The older you are, the higher your risk of being diagnosed with dementia may be
  • Genetics: Dementia can be inherited; some genes can increase our risk, while some rarer genes can cause dementia
  • Gender: A diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease, the most common type of dementia, tends to be more common in women
  • Poor cardiovascular health: Damage to blood vessels can deprive brain cells of food and oxygen, potentially making a person twice as likely to develop dementia
  • Lifestyle factors: Things like smoking, weight problems, lack of exercise, and a poor diet can contribute to a person's risk of developing dementia

Dementia outlook and treatment

The average life expectancy for patients diagnosed with dementia is typically four and a half years, although some individuals may live longer, depending on their age and how healthy they were when the diagnosis was made. 

There are generally seven stages of dementia, ranging from Stage 1 (No Cognitive Decline) to Stage 7 (Very Severe Cognitive Decline). These stages can help doctors determine the best course of treatment.

As of right now, dementia may not be cured, but there are often treatments available to help patients manage and slow down their symptoms. Some of these treatments can include prescription medications to manage the symptoms of dementia, as well as medications to manage behavioral aspects of dementia, like anxiety and sleeplessness. Never start or stop any medication without consulting your doctor.

Therapy can also be helpful for those living with dementia. Coping with the symptoms and changes that can come with a dementia diagnosis can be difficult, but talking with a licensed mental health professional is often beneficial.

Different types of therapy, like crisis intervention, family therapy, support groups, and individual therapy, can be used, depending on the person's individual needs and situation.

Benefits of online therapy

If you recently learned that you or a loved one has dementia, online therapy services can be a great resource for affordable professional support during hard times. Even though it can be difficult to ask for help, both those with dementia and their caregivers deserve available emotional support as they manage the challenges of dementia and come to terms with the diagnosis.

Effectiveness of online therapy

In general, online therapy can be just as effective as in-office therapy. One 2023 study noted that internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy could effectively treat depression symptoms in individuals living with chronic conditions like dementia.

Takeaway

Early detection can be key when it comes to managing symptoms of dementia, which is why it is often important to know the common signs and causes of dementia. Knowing the causes of dementia can give you a better idea of your risk and help you be proactive in taking care of yourself. Age, genetics, gender, cardiovascular health, and lifestyle choices can play a role in its development. In addition, being aware of the signs of dementia, such as the impairment of memory, judgment, communication, and language skills, can potentially help you spot them early in yourself, a friend, or a family member. If you or a loved one has received a dementia diagnosis, therapy can be an effective form of support. Online therapy platforms can be a simple, reachable way to receive this type of care.

Navigate the challenges of dementia

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
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