Questions & Answers

What is Dementia?

Dementia defined

Dementia is a loss of mental function in two or more areas such as language, memory, visual and spatial abilities, or judgment severe enough to interfere with daily life. Dementia itself is not a disease but a broader set of symptoms that accompanies certain diseases or physical conditions. Well-known diseases that cause dementia include Alzheimer’s disease, multi-infarct dementia, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, Pick’s disease, and Lewy body dementia. Other physical conditions may cause or mimic dementia, such as depression, brain tumors, head injuries, nutritional deficiencies, hydrocephalus, infections (AIDS, meningitis, syphilis), drug reaction, and thyroid problems. Individual experiencing dementia-like symptoms should undergo diagnostic testing as soon as possible. An early and accurate diagnosis helps to identify reversible conditions gives patients a greater chance of benefiting from existing treatments, and allows them and their families more time to plan for the future.

Read more: What is Dementia?

Types of Dementia


Multi-infarct dementia (MID), or vascular dementia is is a deterioration of mental capacity caused by multiple strokes (infarcts) in the brain. These events may be described as mini strokes, where small blood vessels in the brain become blocked by blood clots, causing the destruction of brain tissue. The onset of MID may seem relatively sudden, as it may take several strokes for symptoms to appear. These strokes may damage areas of the brain responsible for a specific function as well as produce general symptoms of dementia. As a result, MID is sometimes misdiagnosed as Alzheimer's disease. MID is not reversible or curable, but detection of high blood pressure and other vascular risk factors can lead to a specific treatment that may modify MID's progression. MID is usually diagnosed through neurological examination and brain scanning techniques, such as a computerized tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Read more: Types of Dementia

Memory Check-ups: As Essential as an Oil Change

The most frequent questions asked at Alzheimer's disease conferences and in the Bryan ADRC Memory Disorders Clinic by patients and their loved ones are "Are my current memory problems normal?" and "What do I need to do to fix them?" Clinicians and basic researchers in AD now recognize that the disease begins insidiously and silently 5-10 years or more before onset of obvious changes in memory, behavior/personality or ability to function at home or work.

Read more: Memory Check-ups: As Essential as an Oil Change

Recent media attention surrounding the disorder known as "normal-pressure hydrocephalus" (NPH) has stirred ongoing debate about how common it is-or isn't, and how often is it detected-or not. Thinking back to my neurology resident days, the topic of dementia was always emphatically punctuated with the injunction to keep a sharp eye out for NPH-one of the few so-called "reversible" dementias.

Read more: Non-Alzheimers Dementia-Focus on Normal-Pressure Hydrocephalus

Dee Dee Harris and Peggy Smith are the primary responders to family calls to Alzheimers North Carolina, Inc. They deal with a wide variety of caregiving issues in helping individuals and families handle diagnosis and caring for their loved one. They both offer insights to how they help families when they first come in concerned about a possible diagnosis of Alzheimer's or related disorder. Both are social workers with years of hands-on experience in dealing with dementia and coping skills.

Read more: Family Support Diagnosis

Frontotemporal dementia or FTD is a degenerative brain disorder initially described over 100 years ago by the German neurologist, Arnold Pick, who was a colleague of Alois Alzheimer. Although Alzheimer's disease (AD) and Pick's disease (as FTD used to be known) have some similarities, they have a number of important differences. FTD is much rarer than AD overall, but among individuals age 65 years or less, FTD and AD are about equally common.

Read more: Focus on Frontotemporal Dementia

Dementia with Lewy Bodies (DLB)

What Do You Need to Know?

  • It is not the same as Alzheimer’s disease -some similar symptoms, others are very different
  • Early symptoms are frequently be missed or misunderstood, even by medical professionals.
  • The use of certain medications (anti-psychotics, anti-anxiolytics, sleep aids, Parkinsonian meds) needs to be more carefully considered, due to possible very serious side-effects for people with DLB
  • Progression of DLB may look very different than other forms of dementia.
  • It is possible to have a combination of DLB and other dementias, especially common is DLB plus Alzheimer’s Disease.
  • It can begin at much younger ages than typical Alzheimer’s (50-55 versus over 70)
  • It may look more like Parkinson’s Disease than a traditional dementia
  • It will seem to ‘come and go’ in early stages, you may wonder if you are imagining things.
  • Unexplained rigidity, falls, loss of consciousness, or problems with hand use, or difficulty swallowing are often the first symptoms noticed, combined with episodes of visual hallucinations or delusions. New learning and memory problems are generally not the first problems noted.

Read more: Dementia with Lewy Bodies (DLB)

Frontal Temporal Lobe Dementias FTLD

 What Do You Need to Know?

  • These dementias are NOT the same as Alzheimer’s disease –many early symptoms are very different, although there are some similar symptoms
  • Early symptoms are frequently be missed or misunderstood, even by medical professionals.
  • The use of typical Alzheimer’s medications may have little or no effect, and in some cases may make behaviors worse in the early stages of some FTDs
  • Progression of FTLDs may look very different than other forms of dementia.
  • It is possible to have a combination of FTLD and other dementias - especially common is FTLD plus Alzheimer’s disease.
  • It can begin at much younger ages than typical Alzheimer’s (40-55 versus over 70)
  • Some forms have some characteristics of Parkinson’s Disease especially problems with movement – some will not
  • Since it is mostly either behavior or language problems at first, it is often missed as a dementia – most frequently it is mis-diagnosed as a psychiatric condition, mis-behavior, or ‘mid-life’ crisis.
  • New learning and memory problems are generally not the first problems noted.

Read more: Frontal Temporal Lobe Dementias FTLD

Vascular Dementia

(Vascular Cognitive Impairment)

What Do You Need to Know?

  • It is not the same as Alzheimers disease
  • It has different causes and there are different types
  • The risk of progression can be reduced
  • It can look very different for different people
  • Medical management will be different than for Alzheimer’s disease

Read more: Vascular Dementia

New Treatments in Progress

Clinical Phases

    • Pre-clinical—drugs are studied in test tube situations or on animal models
    • Phase I—tested on a small number of healthy humans to see what a safe dose would be
    • Phase II—testing safety and effectiveness in a small number of patients; not enough people to justify it being used by everyone with the condition
    • Phase III—large scale trial designed to test safety and effectiveness that would be adequate for FDA approval
    • Submit testing results for FDA approval
    • Phase IV—post-approval studies done to make sure the treatment is safe and to promote further investigations
    • Drugs must go through clinical trials in phases before being approved for usage in the U.S.

Read more: New Treatments in Progress

About Us

Join our communities across North Carolina and help us continue supporting families dealing with Alzheimer's or other dementias. Register to walk.

Wilmington 5K Logo
Run with AlzNC!

Click the image above to learn
about 5K Runs across the state.

Guardian Angel

A 501(C)3 non-profit supporting local Alzheimer's research and Alzheimers North Carolina, Inc.

Donations needed and appreciated.
Tax receipt available.

Visit the Guardian Angel Site
742 N. Main Street
Fuquay-Varina, NC 27526