Dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life. Memory loss is only one example of that decline. Dementia causes problems with thinking, memory, and reasoning. It happens when the parts of the brain used for learning, memory, decision making, and language are damaged or diseased. Also called major neurocognitive disorder, dementia is not a disease itself. Instead, it's a group of symptoms caused by other conditions. Dementia & Alzheimer’s disease is not just normal aging of the brain and they are not just memory problems. The brain is physically degenerating. There are as many as 50 causes of dementia.

 The most common causes of dementia include: 


  • Degenerative neurological disease. These include Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease and some types of multiple sclerosis. These diseases get worse over time.
  • Vascular disorders. These are disorders that affect the blood circulation in the brain.
  • Traumatic brain injuries caused by car accidents, falls, and concussions.
  • Infections of the central nervous system. These include meningitis, HIV, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
  • Certain types of hydrocephalus, a buildup of fluid in the brain.

 Types of Dementia can be split into two groups based on which part of the brain is affected.  


  • Cortical dementias happen because of problems in the cerebral cortex, the outer layer of the brain which plays a critical role in memory and language. People with these types of dementia usually have severe memory loss, lose words and stop understanding language. Alzheimer’s disease falls in this category.
  • Subcortical dementias happen because of problems in the part of the brain beneath the cortex. People with subcortical dementias tend to show changes in their speed of thinking and ability to start activities. Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease and HIV can cause these types of dementia.

Alzheimer's disease is the most common type of dementia; 60% to 80% of people with dementia have Alzheimer's disease. Alzheimer’s disease causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time. Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging. The greatest known risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease is increasing age and the majority of people with Alzheimer’s disease are 65 years of age and older. Approximately 200,000 Americans under the age of 65 have younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease. In the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease memory loss is mild but with late stage Alzheimer’s individuals lose ability to carry on a conversation and respond to their environment. Alzheimer’s disease has no current cure but treatments are available. The most common early symptom of Alzheimer’s is difficulty remembering newly learned information because Alzheimer’s changes typically begin in the part of the brain that affects learning. 

Microscopic changes in the brain begin long before the first signs of memory loss. Biological changes in the brain are the cause for the symptoms experienced in Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. 1oo billion nerve cells that connect to form communication networks have special jobs that help us think, learn and remember, others help us see hear and smell. These brain cells work like tiny factories; keeping everything running requires coordination as well as large amounts of fuel and oxygen. Alzheimer’s disease prevents parts of a cells factory from running well. Breakdowns in one part of the brain begin to affect other parts of the brain. As damage spreads cells lose their ability to do their job and eventually die causing irreversible changes in the brain. Two abnormal structures called plaques and tangles are prime suspects in damaging and killing nerve cells. Plaques are an abnormal deposit of protein fragments that build up in the spaces between nerve cells. Tangles are abnormal twisted fibers of another protein that build up inside cells. Through autopsy studies show that most people develop some plaques and tangles as they age those with Alzheimer’s tend to develop far more and in a predictable pattern, beginning in the areas important for memory before spreading to other regions. Most experts believe they somehow block communication among nerve cells and disrupt processes that cells need to survive. It is the destruction and death of nerve cells that causes memory failure personality changes problems carrying out daily activities and other symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.

Ten early signs of Alzheimer’s disease:

  1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life.
  2. Challenges in planning or solving problems.
  3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work, or at leisure.
  4. Confusion with time or place.
  5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships.
  6. New problems with words in speaking or writing.
  7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps.
  8. Decreased or poor judgement.
  9. Withdrawal from work or social activities.
  10. Changes in mood and personality.

Alzheimer’s disease is not the only cause of memory loss. Many people have trouble with memory-this does not mean they have Alzheimer’s. There are many different causes of memory loss. If you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms of dementia it is best to visit a doctor so the cause can be determined. We encourage you, or your loved one to get a clear diagnosis of the dementia symptoms that are being experienced. A clear diagnosis of what type of dementia is being experienced is very important for explaining certain behavior and personality changes, when creating treatment plans and for future preparations.