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  • Writer's pictureAdria Thompson

What is Dementia?

Updated: 3 days ago

A brain being examined

One of the most common questions I want to explore today is a very basic, foundational question: What is dementia?

Understanding dementia is essential to be able to identify in yourself and others and to fight the stigma that often makes it under diagnosed and under discussed. 


What is Dementia?


Dementia is commonly described as an "umbrella term" for various symptoms that impair cognitive functions such as memory, orientation and reasoning that affect a person’s daily activities. Let’s break this down a little bit more. 


To diagnose dementia, two primary criteria must be met:


  1. Changes in Thinking: This encompasses difficulties with:

    1. Memory: Challenges in recalling information.

    2. Orientation: Difficulty recognizing the date, time, or location.

    3. Problem Solving: the ability to recognize problems and develop appropriate solutions

    4. Language: the ability to express yourself and understand others

    5. Safety Awareness: the ability to make decisions to keep yourself and others safe

  2. These changes must be severe enough to interfere with a person’s ability to care for themselves: These cognitive impairments must affect the ability to do things like work, drive, manage medication, pay bills, shower, clean the house, take care of a pet, and other daily tasks. 


Understanding Dementia's Progression


Dementia is a degenerative disease which means that it gets worse over time. Similar to how heart failure or liver failure affects the organ’s ability to function and results in physical symptoms, dementia is brain failure. This can lead to both physical and behavioral symptoms that often complicate care.


Is it Normal?


Dementia is not a normal part of aging. It is true that most people will experience changes in memory and attention as they age. You may forget where you placed your keys or take a little longer to remember a person’s name. However, if you refer back to the two pieces of criteria I referenced earlier in the article, it is when these changes in thinking affect your daily life that it is not normal. When it affects a person’s day-to-day activities, it is important to talk to a medical professional. 


The Importance of Understanding the Disease


For caregivers, understanding dementia is crucial. It allows you to:

  • Pursue Care: Knowing that dementia is not a normal part of aging will help you and others in your life realize that they need to pursue medical care and assessment. 

  • Advocate: Helping others understand dementia better is a passion of mine and a worthwhile pursuit.

  • Plan Ahead: With a better understanding of dementia, you can predict and meet the evolving needs of those you care for. You will know what is coming.


One of the next best ways to understand the disease in more detail is through the individual's type of dementia, which you can more information about find next, on my blog!

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