Medical Encyclopedia


Medical Encyclopedia

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Contents of this page:


Central nervous system
Central nervous system

Alternative Names    Return to top

Chronic brain syndrome; Lewy body dementia; DLB; Vascular dementia

Definition    Return to top

Dementia is a loss of brain function that occurs with certain diseases.

Causes    Return to top

The two major causes of non-reversible (degenerative) dementia are:

The two conditions often occur together.

Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) is a leading cause of dementia in elderly adults. People with this condition have abnormal protein structures in certain areas of the brain.

The structures and symptoms of DLB are similar to those of Alzheimer's disease, but it is not clear whether DLB is a form of Alzheimer's or a separate disease. There is no cure for DLB or Alzheimer's.

Conditions that damage blood vessels or nerve structures of the brain can also lead to dementia.

Treatable causes of dementia include:

Dementia usually occurs in older age. It is rare in people under age 60. The risk for dementia increases as a person gets older.

Symptoms    Return to top

Problems may involve language, memory, perception, emotional behavior or personality, and cognitive skills (such as calculation, abstract thinking, or judgment). Dementia usually first appears as forgetfulness.

Symptoms include:

Other symptoms that may occur with dementia:

Exams and Tests    Return to top

The following tests and procedures may be done:

Treatment    Return to top

The goal of treatment is to control the symptoms of dementia. Treatment depends on the condition causing the dementia. Some people may need to stay in the hospital for a short time.

Stopping or changing medications that make confusion worse may improve brain function. Medicines that contribute to confusion include:

Treating conditions that can lead to confusion can often greatly improve mental functioning. Such conditions include:

Medications may be needed to control behavior problems. Possible medications include:

A person's eyes and ears should be checked regularly. Hearing aids, glasses, or cataract surgery may be needed.

Psychotherapy or group therapy usually does not help because it may cause more confusion.


A person with dementia may need monitoring and help at home or in an institution. Possible options include:

Family members can get help caring for the person with dementia from:

In some communities, support groups may be available (see elder care - support group). Family counseling can help family members cope with home care.

Other tips for reducing disorientation:

Advance directives, power of attorney, and other legal actions may make it easier to decide about the care of the person with dementia. Seek legal advice early in the course of the disorder, before the person with dementia is unable to make such decisions.

Outlook (Prognosis)    Return to top

Dementia usually gets worse and often decreases quality of life and lifespan.

Possible Complications    Return to top

Complications depend on the cause of the dementia, but may include the following:

When to Contact a Medical Professional    Return to top

Prevention    Return to top

Most causes of dementia are not preventable.

You can reduce the risk of vascular dementia, which is caused by a series of small strokes, by quitting smoking and controlling high blood pressure and diabetes. Eating a low-fat diet and exercising regularly may also reduce the risk of vascular dementia.

References    Return to top

Alva G. Alzheimer disease and other dementias. Clin Geriatr Med. 2003; 19(4): 763-76.

American Academy of Neurology. About Dementia. Neurology. 2004; 63(10); E20.

Moore DP, Jefferson JW. Handbook of Medical Psychiatry. 2nd ed. St. Louis, Mo: Mosby; 2004:283-286.

Goetz, CG. Textbook of Clinical Neurology. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders; 2007.

Farlow MR, Cummings JL. Effective pharmacologic management of Alzheimer's disease. Am J Med, 2007;120:388-397.

Update Date: 2/13/2008

Updated by: Luc Jasmin, MD, PhD, Departments of Anatomy & Neurological Surgery, University of California, San Francisco, CA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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