An initiative of the Massachusetts Councils on Aging

What is Dementia?

What is Dementia?

Dementia is the loss of cognitive functioning—thinking, remembering, and reasoning—and behavioral abilities to such an extent that it interferes with a person’s daily life and activities. These functions include memory, language skills, visual perception, problem-solving, self-management, and the ability to focus and pay attention. Some people with dementia cannot control their emotions, and their personalities may change. Dementia ranges in severity from the mildest stage, when it is just beginning to affect a person’s functioning, to the most severe stage, when the person must depend entirely on others for necessary activities of living.

Signs and symptoms of dementia result when once-healthy neurons (nerve cells) in the brain stop working, lose connections with other brain cells, and die. While everyone loses some neurons as they age, people with dementia experience far greater loss. While dementia is more common as people age (up to half of all people age 85 or older may have some form of dementia), it is not a normal part of aging. Many people live into their 90s and beyond without any signs of dementia.

One type of dementia, frontotemporal disorders, is more common in middle-aged than older adults. The causes of dementia can vary, depending on the types of brain changes that may be taking place. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia in older adults. Other dementias include Lewy body dementia, frontotemporal disorders, and vascular dementia. It is common for people to have mixed dementia—a combination of two or more types of dementia. For example, some people have both Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. (Source: National Institute on Aging)

To listen to a first-hand account about living with dementia, explore “The Forgetting: Inside the Mind of Alzheimer’s,” a podcast co-hosted by esteemed experts, David Shenk and Greg O’Brien.  In 2009 O’Brien was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and through this podcast, describes his daily experiences living with the disease.  This podcast targets people diagnosed with dementia and their care partners.

Watch a video to learn more about dementia and the goals of the Dementia Friendly Massachusetts movement.

More Information Can be Found at:

The Alzheimer’s Association
24/7 Helpline: 800.272.3900 (toll-free)

NIA Alzheimer’s and related Dementias Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center
1-800-438-4380 (toll-free)

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