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Dementia

What is Dementia?

Dementia is not a specific disease. It is a descriptive term for a collection of symptoms that can be caused by a number of disorders that affect the brain. People with dementia have significantly impaired intellectual functioning that interferes with normal activities and relationships.

They also lose their ability to solve problems and maintain emotional control, and they may experience personality changes and behavioral problems, such as agitation, delusions, and hallucinations. While memory loss is a common symptom of dementia, memory loss by itself does not mean that a person has dementia. Doctors diagnose dementia only if two or more brain functions - such as memory and language skills -- are significantly impaired without loss of consciousness.  Some of the diseases that can cause symptoms of dementia are Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, frontotemporal dementia, Huntington’s disease, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. 

Doctors have identified other conditions that can cause dementia or dementia-like symptoms including reactions to medications, metabolic problems and endocrine abnormalities, nutritional deficiencies, infections, poisoning, brain tumors, anoxia or hypoxia (conditions in which the brain’s oxygen supply is either reduced or cut off entirely), and heart and lung problems.  Although it is common in very elderly individuals, dementia is not a normal part of the aging process.

Is there any treatment?

Drugs to specifically treat Alzheimer’s disease and some other progressive dementias are now available.  Although these drugs do not halt the disease or reverse existing brain damage, they can improve symptoms and slow the progression of the disease. This may improve an individual’s quality of life, ease the burden on caregivers, or delay admission to a nursing home.

Many researchers are also examining whether these drugs may be useful for treating other types of dementia.  Many people with dementia, particularly those in the early stages, may benefit from practicing tasks designed to improve performance in specific aspects of cognitive functioning. For example, people can sometimes be taught to use memory aids, such as mnemonics, computerized recall devices, or note taking.

What is the prognosis?

There are many disorders that can cause dementia. Some, such as Alzheimer’s disease or Huntington’s disease, lead to a progressive loss of mental functions. But other types of dementia can be halted or reversed with appropriate treatment. People with moderate or advanced dementia typically need round-the-clock care and supervision to prevent them from harming themselves or others. They also may need assistance with daily activities such as eating, bathing, and dressing.

What research is being done?

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) and other institutes of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) conduct research related to dementia in laboratories at the NIH and also support additional dementia research through grants to major medical institutions across the country.  Current research focuses on many different aspects of dementia. This research promises to improve the lives of people affected by the dementias and may eventually lead to ways of preventing or curing these disorders.

Organizations

Alzheimer's Disease Education and Referral Center (ADEAR)
P.O. Box 8250
Silver Spring, MD   20907-8250
adear@nia.nih.gov
http://www.alzheimers.nia.nih.gov
Tel: 301-495-3311 800-438-4380
Fax: 301-495-3334

Alzheimer's Association
225 North Michigan Avenue
17th Floor
Chicago, IL   60601-7633
info@alz.org
http://www.alz.org
Tel: 312-335-8700 TDD: 312-335-5886
Fax: 866.699.1246

Alzheimer's Foundation of America
322 Eighth Avenue
6th Floor
New York, NY   10001
info@alzfdn.org
http://www.alzfdn.org
Tel: 866-AFA-8484 (232-8484)
Fax: 646-638-1546

John Douglas French Alzheimer's Foundation
11620 Wilshire Blvd.
Suite 270
Los Angeles, CA   90025
jdfaf@earthlink.net
http://www.jdfaf.org
Tel: 310-445-4650 800-477-2243
Fax: 310-479-0516

Association for Frontotemporal Dementias (AFTD)
100 North 17th Street
Suite 600
Philadelphia, PA   19103
info@FTD-Picks.org
http://www.FTD-Picks.org
Tel: 267-514-7221 866-507-7222

National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD)
P.O. Box 1968
(55 Kenosia Avenue)
Danbury, CT   06813-1968
orphan@rarediseases.org
http://www.rarediseases.org
Tel: 203-744-0100 Voice Mail 800-999-NORD (6673)
Fax: 203-798-2291

Family Caregiver Alliance/ National Center on Caregiving
180 Montgomery Street
Suite 1100
San Francisco, CA   94104
info@caregiver.org
http://www.caregiver.org
Tel: 415-434-3388 800-445-8106
Fax: 415-434-3508

C-Mac Informational Services/Caregiver News [For Alzheimer's-Type Dementia Caregivers]
120 Clinton Lane
Cookeville, TN   38501-8946
caregiver_cmi@hotmail.com
http://www.caregivernews.org

National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
National Institutes of Health, DHHS
6001 Executive Blvd. Rm. 8184, MSC 9663
Bethesda, MD   20892-9663
nimhinfo@nih.gov
http://www.nimh.nih.gov
Tel: 301-443-4513/866-615-NIMH (-6464) 301-443-8431 (TTY)
Fax: 301-443-4279

National Family Caregivers Association
10400 Connecticut Avenue
Suite 500
Kensington, MD   20895-3944
info@thefamilycaregiver.org
http://www.thefamilycaregiver.org
Tel: 301-942-6430 800-896-3650
Fax: 301-942-2302

Lewy Body Dementia Association
P.O. Box 451429
Atlanta, GA   31145-9429
lbda@lbda.org
http://www.lewybodydementia.org
Tel: 404-935-6444 800-LEWYSOS (539-9767)
Fax: 480-422-5434

Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation (formerly, Institute for the Study of Aging)
1414 Avenue of the Americas
Suite 1502
New York, NY   10019
hfillit@alzdiscovery.org
http://www.alzdiscovery.org
Tel: 212-935-2402
Fax: 212-935-2408

Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) Foundation Inc.
P.O. Box 5312
Akron, OH   44334
help@cjdfoundation.org
http://www.cjdfoundation.org
Tel: 800-659-1991
Fax: 330-668-2474

CJD Aware!
2527 South Carrollton Ave.
New Orleans, LA   70118-3013
cjdaware@iwon.com; info@cjdaware.com
http://www.cjdaware.com
Tel: 504-861-4627

Well Spouse Association
63 West Main Street
Suite H
Freehold, NJ   07728
info@wellspouse.org
http://www.wellspouse.org
Tel: 800-838-0879 732-577-8899
Fax: 732-577-8644

National Respite Network and Resource Center
800 Eastowne Drive
Suite 105
Chapel Hill, NC   27514
http://www.archrespite.org
Tel: 919-490-5577 x222
Fax: 919-490-4905

American Health Assistance Foundation
22512 Gateway Center Drive
Clarksburg, MD   20871
info@ahaf.org
http://www.ahaf.org
Tel: 301-948-3244 800-437-AHAF (2423)
Fax: 301-258-9454

National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization /Natl. Hospice Foundation
1700 Diagonal Road
Suite 625
Alexandria, VA   22314
nhpco_info@nhpco.org
http://www.nhpco.org
Tel: 703-837-1500 Helpline: 800-658-8898
Fax: 703-837-1233