What is dementia?

Dementia is a term that describes cognitive impairment severe enough to impair a person’s ability to perform his or her daily activities. In this sense, dementia is more of a descriptive term than a diagnosis. As such, it is best understood as part of a spectrum that ranges from normal cognition through mild cognitive impairment to dementia.

How is dementia identified?

A physician will begin an evaluation of a patient who is experiencing cognitive difficulties by taking a thorough history and performing a complete neurologic examination. Corroboration of reported cognitive symptoms and functional status is of paramount importance, as individuals with cognitive impairment may not have complete awareness of their symptoms and may not be able to accurately judge their functional abilities.

Cognitive screening tests generally enable the physician to detect dementia. A more detailed neuropsychological assessment may be required to better characterize the extent and severity of cognitive impairment, and patterns of cognitive decline may aid in establishing a more accurate diagnosis than the descriptive term “dementia.”

How is dementia treated?

Treatment is geared to address the cause of dementia.

What can be done to prevent dementia?

Although dementia is a descriptive term rather than a diagnosis, numerous clinical studies have investigated risks for undifferentiated dementia. (Undifferentiated indicates that a specific diagnosis was not recorded as part of these clinical studies.)

Several lifestyle choices can reduce your risk of cognitive impairment, and many have been shown to reduce your risk of other medical conditions as well. All of these choices work in concert to help improve the likelihood of your aging successfully.