The symptoms, stages, types of dementia

Published 4:06 pm Monday, September 24, 2018

As we age, our memories aren’t always as sharp as they were even a few years ago. 

Many people wonder if forgetfulness is “normal” or if they are developing dementia. To be clear, dementia is a term that describes a variety of at least eight cognitive diseases that impair memory, the most common of these is Alzheimer’s disease which accounts for 60-80 percent of all dementia cases.

Other types of dementia include: vascular, Lewy bodies, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease and frontotemporal dementia. Two things you need to know are that while the risk of dementia does increase with age, it is not a normal part of aging, and occasional forgetfulness is fairly common and quite normal.

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Here are a few of the many early symptoms of dementia: repeatedly asking the same question, inability to recall how to cook a meal, forgetting simple words or using an incorrect word instead, getting lost while driving a familiar route, inability to balance a checkbook, misplacing everyday items like keys or wallets, and showing signs of mood changes including becoming fearful or suspicious of people including family members. With dementia, new symptoms may appear and most will worsen as the disease progresses.

To oversimplify, the stages of dementia can be stated as four categories: 

• Mild cognitive impairment which is general forgetfulness as people age, but it does not always lead to advanced stages of dementia. 

• Mild dementia which is significant enough to impact daily life with issues like getting lost, confusion with dates and numbers and personality changes. 

• Moderate dementia which may require that assistance be provided for some activities of daily living like personal hygiene, dressing, taking the correct dosages of prescribed medications, sleep issues, and a greater likelihood of agitation for no particular reason. 

• Severe dementia, which is a fairly advanced level of the cognitive disease that often affects mobility, may impact the ability to communicate, increase problems with incontinence, and impair the ability to do formerly simple tasks.

There can be many causes of dementia, and most types involve brain cell death but science has yet to definitively determine the answer to the “chicken and egg” question: does dementia cause brain cell death or does brain cell death cause dementia. We do know that dementia can result from a brain tumor, a vascular event like a stroke, a severe head injury or the result of repetitive injuries like concussions in sports like football that can show up as dementia years after the injuries occurred.

Dementia can be diagnosed using a series of memory tests some of which are very basic and can be administered by a general practitioner. However, to achieve a definitive diagnosis, a combination of additional testing, usually administered by a neurologist specializing in cognitive diseases is needed along with the input and observations from spouses, family and caregivers. Sadly, as of today, brain cell death cannot be reversed, and the few drugs available for treatment of dementia, if tolerated, do not stop or cure the progression, but may slow it down in some patients.

Age remains the biggest factor for dementia, but there are things we can do to reduce the risk of age-related onset including: staying mentally active and socially engaged, stop smoking, moderation in the consumption of alcoholic beverages, control high blood pressure, and maintain safe cholesterol levels. 

Hopefully, science and technology will break through to find a preventative or cure soon. 

Ron Kauffman is a consultant and expert speaker on issues of aging. He is the author of “Caring for a Loved One with Alzheimer’s Disease.” He may be contacted at 828-696-9799 or at