Care Partner Information Sheet

Dementia - What is Dementia?

What is Dementia?

Dementia is Changes in Memory, Thinking, and Communication That Affect Daily Life 

Dementia means severe changes in memory, thinking, and communication. Alzheimer's disease is the most common type of dementia. But there are other types, too. In the past, people used the word "senile" instead of dementia.

The risk of dementia goes up with age, but it is not part of normal aging. We all have a little trouble with memory and thinking when we get older. But when those changes are bad enough to affect daily activities, they are not normal. They mean someone may have dementia.

A person may have dementia if they show two or more of the warning signs listed here.

10 Warning Signs of Dementia
Warning Signs
Examples
1.  Agitation
Being nervous and worried when there is no reason to be.
2.  Behavior changes
Acting strangely. Doing things they normally wouldn't do.
3.  Disorganization
Getting mixed up. Doing things in the wrong order.
4.  Disorientation
Being confused about where they are, or getting lost.
5.  Memory loss
Forgetting things. Asking the same question again and again.
6.  Movement problems
Problems walking, picking things up, being uncoordinated.
7.  Paranoia
Being afraid or suspicious when there is no reason to be.
8.  Poor judgment
Deciding to do something that is risky or doesn't make sense.
9.  Problems thinking
Forgetting how to count money.
10. Sexual actions
Doing or saying inappropriate things about sex.


Get A Check Up

See your doctor if you or someone you care about has two or more of the warning signs. The doctor can check to see what is the cause, because it's not always dementia. Sometimes those signs can be caused by a problem that can be treated.

If it is dementia, and not something that can be fixed, finding out early is important. That's because Alzheimer's disease and other dementias get worse over time. Finding out early gives time to plan for the future.

Why Do People Get Dementia?

Many things can lead to dementia. Some can't be changed, but others can.  By changing the ones you can, the chance of dementia goes down.

Things You Can Change 

  • Blood pressure. High or low blood pressure may increase your risk of dementia.
  • Heavy alcohol use. More than 2 drinks a day may increase your risk of dementia.
  • Diabetes. Having diabetes can increase risk of dementia. Controlling blood sugar can help.
  • Obesity. Being overweight may increase your risk of dementia.
  • Smoking. Smoking increases your risk of developing dementia. Don't smoke.
  • High cholesterol. High cholesterol levels place you at increased risk for dementia.
  • Low vitamin B12. Low level increase the risk of dementia. Your doctor can check this.


Things You Cannot Change 

  • Family history. If a close relative has had dementia, you are at higher risk. You can be tested to see if you are at high risk.
  • Age. As you age, the risk of dementia goes up, especially after age 65.
  • Head injury. Serious head injuries, such as severe concussions, can increase the risk of dementia.
  • Down syndrome. People with Down syndrome are at higher risk of dementia.


Useful Websites


Written By: Jane Mohler, NP-c, MPH, PhD, University of Arizona Center on Aging

Alzheimer's disease and Related Dementia ~ Care Partner Information
Edited by an inter-professional team from the University of Arizona Center on Aging, Alzheimer's Association - Desert Southwest Chapter and Community Caregivers

This project was supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under grant number UB4HP19047, Arizona Geriatric Education Center.  This information or content and conclusions are those of the author and should not be construed as the official position or policy of, nor should any endorsements be inferred by HRSA, HHS or the U.S. Government.