Dementia is caused by a disorder that affects the brain. It is not a specific disease, but a syndrome characterized by a decline in memory and other cognitive abilities. People with dementia may not be able to communicate, carry on a conversation, or respond to their environment. They may not be able to perform basic activities such as dressing themselves or eating, or lose the ability to solve problems or control their emotions. Their personalities may change and they may become easily agitated.
Many different diseases can cause dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease and stroke. Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of the aging process although the majority of people with Alzheimer’s are over 65. A much smaller percentage have “early onset” Alzheimer’s, which can appear much earlier. Alzheimer’s is progressive and symptoms and memory loss may be mild at first, but will usually worsen as years pass.
A person with advanced dementia or Alzheimer’s will require assistance in navigating most areas of their lives and must always be under a caretaker’s supervision. For those without family or friends, a guardian may be appointed by the courts.