The following was submitted by the North Andover Senior Center.
“Dementia” is a term that has replaced a more out-of-date word, “senility,” to refer to cognitive changes with advanced age.
A good analogy to the term dementia is “fever”. Fever refers to an elevated temperature, indicating that a person is sick. But it does not give any information about what is causing the sickness. In the same way, dementia means that there is something wrong with a person’s brain, but it does not provide any information about what is causing the memory or cognitive difficulties. Dementia is not a disease; it is the clinical presentation or symptoms of a disease.
Dementia is not part of normal aging. When someone is told they have dementia, it means that they have significant memory problems as well as other cognitive difficulties, and that these problems are severe enough to get in the way of daily living.
Most of the time, dementia is caused by the specific brain disease, Alzheimer’s disease. However, some less common degenerative causes of dementia include vascular dementia (also referred to as multi-infarct dementia), frontotemporal dementia, Lewy Body disease, and chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
One reason for the confusion about dementia and Alzheimer’s disease is that it is not possible to diagnose with 100% accuracy while someone is alive.
This contribution was made by Dr. Robert Stern, Director of the BU ADC Clinical Core. Source BU ADC Bulletin.