What is dementia?

Dementia refers to a progressive worsening of a person's cognitive function.  The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer's Disease.  At this time there is no cure for Alzheimer Disease, but medications do exist that help give some symptomatic relief. It is important to figure out what kind of dementia a patient has since some dementias have specific treatments and can even be stopped from getting worse.  In addition, knowing the specific diagnosis helps families and patients allocate their resources to better care and to help define expectations. 

There are some dementias that can be treated and often times be stopped from getting worse. It is important to be evaluated for these other types of dementias to ensure we do not miss a treatable type of dementia. Typical work up starts with a detailed and careful history.  In fact, a good history usually has most of the answers.  Further details can be gathered with Computed Tomography or Magnetic Resonance Imaging and blood work. Rarely, some patients will need spinal fluid evaluations, electroencephalograms, and various Positon Emission Tomographic testing. 

Your primary care physician may refer you to a neurologist if you are not following the typical pattern that most Alzheimer disease patients exhibit. The neurologist may offer additional work up as described above and may help guide you to more recent treatment trends. Dementia research is ongoing and new trials are being developed each year.