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Dementia or forgetfulness?

Everyone forgets things once in a while. But dementia is much more than spacing on a name or appointment time. In this chat with our medical director, Dr. Lindsay Carter, you’ll learn what causes dementia, how to recognize it, and how to keep your mind sharp.

a man sitting in a garden

Q&A with Dr. Carter

What is dementia?
It’s a general term for problems with memory loss, thinking, or communicating. But it’s not just that you forget a word here and there. Dementia affects your ability to do your normal everyday activities. 

Once you have dementia, is it here to stay?
Not always. Sometimes, symptoms are temporary and can be reversed. That’s the case with dementia caused by:

  • Side effects from medications
  • Mood disorders
  • Lack of certain vitamins
  • Thyroid problems

What causes long-term dementia?
There are 3 main conditions:

  • Alzheimer’s disease is by far the most common cause of dementia. It typically starts with trouble remembering recent events. Over time, people with Alzheimer’s lose the ability to take care of themselves.
  • Vascular dementia happens when there’s an issue with blood flow to the brain, like with a stroke. This can cause symptoms like confusion, memory loss, and trouble speaking to suddenly appear or worsen.
  • Lewy body dementia can lead to confusion, changes in thinking, and seeing or hearing things that aren’t really there. 

Who’s at risk for dementia?
People ages 65 and older are most at risk. And that risk is higher if dementia runs in your family. Heart disease can also raise your risk because it can lead to a stroke, which could cause vascular dementia. 

What symptoms should I look for?
It’s totally normal to have some memory issues as you get older. You don’t need to be alarmed if you sometimes forget a name or what time you scheduled an appointment for.

Dementia impacts your ability to do your normal day-to-day activities, so the following are red flags:

  • Getting lost in a familiar neighborhood
  • Having a hard time remembering new information
  • Relying on others for tasks you used to be able to do on you own, like paying your bills

How is dementia treated?
It depends on the cause. For example, if it’s due to a medication, then switching to a different drug may clear up the symptoms.

Alzheimer’s, vascular dementia, and Lewy body dementia can’t be cured. But medications can help slow the disease’s progress and control some of the symptoms. 

Can dementia be prevented?
Not that we know of, but you can do plenty to keep your brain healthy:

  • Get moving. Physical activity is one of the best ways to keep your brain healthy.
  • Eat a healthy diet. It’s good for your brain and lowers your risk of heart disease.
  • Stay social. Connecting with others is great for your mood and the health of your brain.
  • Exercise your mind. Reading, working on brain teasers, and solving crossword puzzles can all help keep you sharp.

What if I’m worried about myself or a loved one?
Talk to your doctor as soon as possible. Even when dementia can’t be cured, it can often be slowed down, so it’s best to catch it early.

The Takeaway

Dementia affects more and more people every year. Here’s what to remember about it:

  1. Everyone ages 65 and older is at risk for dementia
  2. Dementia is more than forgetfulness — it impacts your ability to do everyday tasks and activities
  3. The sooner you catch dementia, the better
  4. Stay sharp by exercising your body and mind, staying connected, and eating a healthy diet

This article is for general reference only (learn more). Always talk to your doctor or other health professional for medical advice.