Dementia is not a disease, it is a group of symptoms


There is a lot of confusion surrounding dementia. For starters, many people mistakenly believe that dementia is a disease on its own when, in fact, it’s an overall term that describes a group of symptoms associated with the decline in thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person’s ability to perform everyday activities.

Our brains are regularly trying to process and make sense of all of the things around us to do anything at all and, because someone living with dementia has a challenging time doing that, entire experiences are lost. Essentially, their brains are constantly trying to get their bearings because they have a “broken thinker.”

So, what does this look like in daily life?

Dementia can manifest in many ways: issues with cognition, behavior, moods and psychological changes to name a few. These are all symptoms, much like a cough or a fever is a symptom of an illness. And, just like how a cough doesn’t necessarily mean someone has lung cancer, dementia doesn’t always mean someone has Alzheimer’s disease even though the two are often confused.

While Alzheimer’s disease is the leading cause of dementia symptoms, there are actually more than one hundred causes, including strokes, medication, diseases, ongoing infections or even a response to a toxin. And then, to make things a little more complex, there are many types of dementia, including Lewy Body dementia, Parkinson’s Disease, Frontotemporal dementia, Huntington’s disease and more.

All of these causes and types of dementia can manifest differently and often progress at different rates. At times, dual diagnoses can occur at the same time. This is one reason why it’s so important to get an accurate diagnosis of the type and cause of dementia so that caregivers can prepare for the likely progression of symptoms before they occur. If you notice any of these new or worsening symptoms in someone you love or are caring for professionally, consult a medical professional as soon as possible:

  • Memory loss
  • Difficult communicating
  • Difficulty with spatial abilities
  • Challenges with reasoning
  • Difficulty handling complex tasks
  • Changes to balance and coordination
  • Confusion and general disorientation
  • Personality changes
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoid thoughts
  • Hallucinations

While this is a lengthy list, it is not an exhaustive one. Keep in mind that everybody’s body and brain chemistry are unique, and therefore so are the ways dementia shows up in them. One way to become Dementia Aware is to develop a sensitivity to changes in the patterns of those you care for so that you can address them early on and support them better. This leads to a richer and more fulfilling relationship between the two of you.

For more tips on becoming Dementia Aware, join our Facebook community of caregivers or contact me at [email protected].

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