A Look at Dementia

Kim Maryniak, PhD, RNC-NIC, NEA-BC


Dementia is not a specific disease. Dementia is a general term used to identify a decline in mental capacity severe enough to interfere with activities of daily life. While the aging process can cause loss of some neurons, people with dementia experience far greater loss. Dementia patients can lose the ability to think, remember, or reason, which may lead to behavioral complications (Alzheimer’s Association, 2018; National Institutes of Health, 2017). The prevalence of dementia can be difficult to determine, due in part to varying international estimates. These variances are related to the complexity of diagnosis, as many symptoms can be attributed to the aging process rather than dementia. Many cases can go undiagnosed. Assessments in 2015 estimated that dementia affects about 46.8 million people worldwide (Alzheimer’s Disease International, 2015).

There are various types of dementia, with the most common form being Alzheimer's disease. Other types of dementia include vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, frontotemporal disorders, and mixed dementia. There are also cognitive changes associated with Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, multiple sclerosis, traumatic brain injury, Korsakoff syndrome, and other conditions.

Symptoms of dementia vary from individual to individual, depending on multiple factors. An early, accurate diagnosis of dementia helps patients and their families plan for the future. It gives them time to discuss care options with the patient. Early diagnosis also offers the best chance to treat the symptoms of the disease. When working with dementia patients, strategies should be individualized to the patient, based on psychosocial, spiritual, and cultural needs. The behaviors associated with the patient’s dementia also require use of a variety of techniques. Strategies can be developed based on the type of impairment the patient is experiencing (AlzBrain.org, n.d.).

The term dementia is often used interchangeably with Alzheimer’s disease. While patients who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease experience cognitive changes consistent with Dementia, the two are very different disease processes. For more information, review the RN.com course Dementia: An In-Depth Review.

AlzBrain.org. (n.d.) Managing behavioral symptoms of residents with dementia in long-term care facilities. Retrieved from: http://www.alzbrain.org/pdf/handouts/2009.%20behavior%20book.pdf

Alzheimer’s Association. (2018). Types of dementia. Retrieved from: http://www.alz.org/dementia/types-of-dementia.asp

Alzheimer’s Disease International. (2015). World Alzheimer report 2015. Retrieved from: https://www.alz.co.uk/research/WorldAlzheimerReport2015.pdf

National Institutes of Health. (2017). The dementias: Hope through research. Retrieved from: https://order.nia.nih.gov/sites/default/files/2018-01/the-dementias-hope-through-research.pdf

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