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Dementia is a group of conditions that impact memory, thinking, and social skills. To be diagnosed with dementia, a person's symptoms have to impede routine functioning and reflect a drastic decline in mental capability. Early diagnosis may help slow the speed at which the condition progresses, but there is no cure for dementia. Treatment and medication may help reduce the intensity of symptoms, but their effect is usually minor.

Memory loss and distortion

People with dementia tend to have problems with short-term memory. They may remember things from long ago but forget what happened this morning. Memory distortions also occur. People with dementia may confuse people in their memories, or combine two or more memories. Sometimes, they think an old memory is a new one. Memory issues are an early sign of dementia.

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Loss of vocabulary

As people develop dementia, their communicative ability may deteriorate. They develop problems with vocabulary and must repeatedly hunt for words during a conversation. Over time, some people find communicating difficult enough that they participate less in conversations.

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Changes in mood and disposition

Dementia tends to alter an individual's mood. Someone with dementia may be jovial and cheery one second and deeply morose the next. Some also develop depression. This unpredictability of mood is usually accompanied by a change in general disposition and personality traits. For instance, a shy individual may suddenly seem very uninhibited. This occurs because the individual is losing neurons in certain parts of the brain. Changes depend on which area of the brain is affected.

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Faulty reasoning

When dementia advances, people may say and do things that seem irrational or based on faulty logic. For instance, they might bathe with extremely cold water when they are feeling mildly warm and catch a cold. They might stash away things in strange nooks and corners, and give strange explanations when asked about their behavior.

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Disorientation

Dementia causes disorientation of time, place and circumstance in most patients. They tend to be confused about what day or year it is, are unaware of the passage of day and night, and can lose track of what they're doing. [or example, affected individuals may forget what they ate for breakfast that day or become confused in familiar surroundings. This aspect of dementia only worsens over time.

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Trouble with comprehension

Individuals with dementia lose their comprehension ability rapidly. They may not understand what is happening and ask the same questions over and over. Some have difficulty telling time, following instructions, reading, and writing. In the initial stages, a low degree of incomprehension can be misattributed to inattentiveness.

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Balance problems

Having dementia also affects physical movement. As motor control gradually decreases, individuals may begin walking with a stoop or leaning to one side. They may be more prone to accidents such as stumbling and falling due to balance issues and disorientation.

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Lack of self-care tendencies

Individuals with dementia often stop practicing rigorous self-care and hygiene as the disease progresses. They may not want to bathe or wear clean clothes and might disregard cluttered or dirty living environments.

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Change in appetite and eating habits

Over time, people with dementia can lose interest in eating. They may adopt unhealthy habits such as skipping meals or spitting out food. A caregiver can make sure people with dementia continue to eat properly, to avoid malnutrition.

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Loss of social skills

Impaired judgment causes loss of social skills in people with dementia. They may behave and speak inappropriately in the company of others, often offending or even frightening other people.

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Wandering and getting lost

Many individuals with dementia experience a phenomenon known as "wandering." They may wander aimlessly, often without a clear sense of direction or purpose. Wandering can lead to getting lost even in familiar surroundings, which poses safety concerns.

An elderly woman holding a handrail and going up the stairs

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Incontinence

As dementia progresses, individuals may experience incontinence, which includes both urinary and fecal incontinence. There may be medical reasons for this, like an enlarged prostate or constipation, or it can occur because the person no longer has the ability to react quickly or remember when they have the urge to go. This can be emotionally distressing for the person with dementia and can be challenging for caregivers to manage.  

Urinary incontinence concept with old woman wearing wet pants from urine standing next to her bed
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Agitation and aggression

Some individuals with dementia may exhibit increased agitation and, in some cases, aggression. This change in behavior can be triggered by confusion, frustration, or feeling threatened. It's essential for caregivers to provide a safe and supportive environment to manage these symptoms effectively.

An aggressive elder man threatens with his fist. A man is threatening with his fist in the foreground. Behind the fist is the blurred face of an old man.

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Changes in sense of taste and smell

Dementia can affect a person's ability to taste and smell, leading to a preference for sweet or salty foods and a dislike for familiar, once-favorite dishes. This can make meal planning and nutrition more challenging. Changes in sense of smell can also be dangerous as they may no longer be able to smell smoke or food rotting. Caregivers should make sure smoke alarms are installed and have working batteries and clean old food out of the refrigerator and pantry.

Senior woman holding plate of bad spoiled or expired food in her hand,rotten food,emitting a fetid smell or strong-smelling food,disgusted old elderly cover nose with her finger,diet,nutrition concept

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Hoarding

Some individuals with dementia may develop hoarding tendencies, accumulating a large number of items, often without any clear reason. They may fear losing something important or find a sense of comfort in being surrounded by things. Addressing hoarding in people with dementia is a safety issue. This behavior can create clutter and safety hazards in their living spaces or attract pests that can make the space unsanitary.

Senior or elderly man hoarding toilet rolls. Possessive because of a shortage of commodities.

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Disclaimer

This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.