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Understanding Dementia

Elderly woman smelling lavender.

What is Dementia?

Dementia is not a specific disease but rather an umbrella term used for older individuals experiencing loss of memory, language, problem solving and thinking skills. It is caused by damage to or loss of nerve cells and their connections in the brain.There are several reasons and medical conditions that can cause the onset of dementia but the medical conditions most commonly affect older adults over the age of 65. These abnormal brain changes can trigger a decline in thinking ability, also known as cognitive decline, severe enough to alter daily life and independent living function.

The most common and known form of dementia is called Alzheimer’s disease. It was discovered by German physician Alois Alzheimer in 1910 and is thought to be caused by the abnormal build-up of two proteins called amyloid and tau. There are currently at least 11 additional discovered varieties of dementia, including:

  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease

  • Dementia with Lewy-Bodies

  • Down Syndrome and Alzheimer’s

  • Frontotemporal Dementia

  • Huntington’s Disease

  • Mixed Dementia

  • Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus

  • Posterior Cortical Atrophy

  • Parkinson's Disease Dementia

  • Vascular Dementia

  • Korsakoff Syndrome

A purple paper cut out of a head with butterflies around and in the brain.

What are the common signs and symptoms?

In the early stages of dementia, older adults may begin to experience difficulty talking or expressing thoughts, being late paying bills, forgetting about appointments or losing personal belongings. Eventually, these individuals will have to rely on helpful aids to assist them in remembering important information, with things such as tasks written on post-it notes around their home or electronic reminders on their phones. As their dementia progresses, their memory may become further impaired to the point where they may forget where or who they are, decide it’s time to go to an appointment that doesn’t exist, forget daily hygiene or simply forget to eat or even drink water. It is at this point where the older adult is no longer able to safely live independently in their own home without 24-hour assistance provided by specially-trained providers. Another option would be transitioning the older adult into a safer, secured environment such as a memory care or board-and-care home where they could receive the necessary assistance with performing activities of daily living (ADL’s). This could include assistance with things such as grooming, dressing, meals, and even toileting.

Precautionary steps to prevent or slow the on-set of dementia Although sometimes the onset of dementia is caused by genetic predispositions, following a brain-health conscious routine may help prevent or even slow down the on-set of this syndrome. Follow these preventive tips to keep your mind sharp and body at its very best.

A fresh salad with tomatoes and cheese on top.

1. Eat the Mediterranean Diet Plant-rich foods, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, herbs and spices, form the foundation of this diet. Studies show that the Mediterranean diet may help reduce the risk for heart disease, help prevent cognitive decline and dementia disease, assist with weight loss, help prevent type 2 diabetes and protect against cancer.

2. Exercise Daily

Just 30 minutes of exercise a day may help promote blood circulation, enhance mental health, and increase activity in parts of the brain that have to do with executive function and memory and promote the growth of new brain cells.

A wood block brain game.

3. Play Brain Games Similar to a muscle that atrophies without use, the human brain loses neurons and shrinks as we grow older leaving us with mental dullness, at best, memory loss and dementia, at worst. Studies have shown that people who play brain games and other exercises are 63% less likely to develop dementia.

4. Socialize Frequently

The mental stimulation of an older adult who socializes regularly may help prevent cognitive decline by stimulating attention and memory and helping to strengthen neural networks. Socializing also helps to prevent loneliness and is associated with other healthy behaviors, such as exercise.

A stethoscope and red paper heart.

5. Regular Doctors Visits

Visiting your doctor for an annual check-up, at the very least, can curb and even prevent age-related health conditions that may result in the onset of dementia. A loss of important senses, such as hearing or sight, can cause neural pathways to not exhibit the amount of stimulation in order to keep them strong, healthy and connected. Check in with your doctor for current health-related advice.

Today, the causes of dementia are being thoroughly researched by several foundations that are currently working to discover a cure, helping families understand the cause, discussing care options and providing ways to help prevent dementia. We have traveled a long road, and without foundations such as the Alzheimer's Association, we wouldn’t have the groundbreaking discoveries that we have available today.


If you are interested in learning more about senior health, click here! Or try out one of our delicious, easy recipes here!


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