Defining Dementia

What is Dementia?

Dictionary.com defines dementia as a “severe impairment or loss of intellectual capacity and personality integration, due to the loss of or damage to neurons in the brain.” The Free Dictionary defines dementia as the “loss of mental ability severe enough to interfere with normal activities of daily living, lasting more than six months, not present since birth, and not associated with a loss or definition of consciousness.”

Dementia is not a disease. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, dementia is a “descriptive term for a collection of symptoms that can be caused by a number of disorders that affect the brain.” There are many injuries and diseases that display the signs and symptoms of dementia. The most well-known is Alzheimer’s disease, a progressive, irreversible brain disease that destroys memory and thinking skills. Vascular dementia may occur when there is a decrease in blood flow to the brain due to a series of small strokes. Other cerebrovascular causes include traumatic brain injuries, Lyme disease, lupus erythematous, hydrocephalus, and subdural hematoma. Some immune and neuromuscular disorders can also cause dementia including AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, Lewy Body disease, Huntington’s disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, brain tumors, multiple sclerosis, and some vitamin deficiencies (Thiamin, Niacin, or B12).

What are the symptoms of Dementia?

The U.S. National Library of Medicine states through PubMed Health that dementia may cause “difficulty in mental function, including language, memory, perception and cognitive skills.” The symptoms of dementia include memory loss (often the first noticed symptom), impairment of abstraction and planning, disturbances in language and comprehension, poor judgment, impaired ability for orientation (not being able to tell the date, time, place or own name), decrease in attention span, increased restlessness, and changes in behavior and psychosis.

Over the years, the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) has funded several projects dealing with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. Past and present projects include:

  • Systematic Study of the Effectiveness of ACC Intervention to Improve Conversation in Individuals with Degenerative Language Disorders. Oregon Health and Science University (H133G080162) led by Melanie Fried-Oken, PhD, Charity Rowland, PhD.
  • Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center for Cognitive Rehabilitation. University of Colorado (H133E090003) led by Cathy Bodine, PhD.
  • Personal Digital Memories for Individuals with Memory and Cognitive Disabilities. Photozig, Inc. (H133S020030) led by Bruno Kajiywama. (This project has completed its research activities and is now closed.)

About mpgarcia

I'm the Bilingual Information/Media Specialist at NARIC.
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