More than 3 million people in the U.S. are suffering from dementia – a number the World Health Organization expects to rise in coming years. Contrary to popular belief, dementia is not a disease itself, but rather an accumulation of symptoms. Most commonly, dementia is identified as a loss of memory, as well as impaired brain functions like confusion, difficulty making sound judgments or difficulty communicating. Because dementia affects functions of the brain, the condition can cause extreme changes in personality and mood, as well as changes in behaviors.

Dementia is prevalent in senior citizens, and risk factor for developing the condition only increases with age. Approximately 1 in 15 seniors over age 65 have dementia to some degree, but that number rises to as many as 1 in 2 by age 80. Early onset dementia is also possible – although rare.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Because dementia symptoms are typically related to nervous system diseases, it is important that individuals experiencing the symptoms of dementia visit a neurologist for a complete examination. Lab testing, neurological testing and imaging scans may be used to detect nutritional deficiencies, bodily toxins, head traumas, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, spinal cord infections, kidney disease or liver disease – all of which can cause dementia.

Most cases of dementia are not curable; but a small percentage – approximately 20 percent – are both treatable and reversible. For those that are not, medications are available to help manage some of the symptoms.

Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease is a condition identified by advanced dementia. Generally, all patients with Alzheimer’s are suffering from dementia, but not all patients with dementia are suffering from Alzheimer’s. However, Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia that seems to become progressively worse over time. This disease is responsible for as many as 3 in 5 cases of dementia. Although researchers are working to develop medications and treatments that can prevent, slow or reverse Alzheimer’s, there is currently no cure for the disease.