What Exactly Is Dementia

Written by DCAN Contributor

June 24, 2024

Written by: Cristina Rodriguez, CNP CADDCT, Care Navigator/Dementia Educator

While doing a training earlier this month in Cold Spring, I asked the question to a group of about 30 people, “Who has heard of dementia?”

Every single person in the group raised their hand. That was the first time in my 20+ year career that every single person raised their hand and acknowledged that they had heard of dementia. I was accustomed to having a few, or a handful of attendees raise their hand, so this was interesting to me. I was thrilled to see that more and more individuals are hearing about dementia, talking about dementia AND learning about dementia. This is definitely a step in the right direction. 

During the first six months of 2024, DRCC staff have provided education and encouraged conversations about dementias in 7 central Minnesota Counties (Benton, Crow Wing, Hennepin, Meeker, Stearns, Todd, Wright), attending 28 events and engaging with over 1,000 participants. For the remaining six months of the year, we will continue to provide education and encourage conversations throughout our 14-county area in central Minnesota and beyond. Stay in touch and up to date with all of our events by checking out our events calendar on the website. 

So, what is dementia?

Dementia itself is not a disease, rather it is a commonly known term that is used to describe neurological signs and symptoms. The most common sign or symptom that most of us think of is short-term memory loss. But there are many other signs such as changes to one’s executive function. Our executive function is the area of the brain that keeps us on schedule. It is what allows us to follow recipes, pay bills, and stay on task from one thing to another. Other symptoms include word finding, other communication difficulties, and changes in one’s mood or personality.

It is believed that there are over 100 forms of dementia. Below are the 5 most common forms of dementia.

      • Alzheimer’s disease, being the most common dementia, accounts for 60-80% of all dementia worldwide. Alzheimer’s type dementia starts in the hippocampus, the area in the brain that is responsible for housing, storing, organizing, and retrieving our memories. When there is damage to the hippocampus due to Alzheimer’s, we see signs or symptoms of memory loss.
      • Mixed Dementia accounts for nearly 50% of dementia. Mixed dementia happens when there is more than one form of dementia present in the brain. The most common form of mixed dementia is Alzheimer’s and Vascular. 
      • Vascular dementia is a general term describing problems with reasoning, planning, judgment, memory, and other thought processes caused by brain damage from impaired blood flow to your brain. You can develop vascular dementia after a stroke blocks an artery in your brain, but strokes don’t always cause vascular dementia. Whether a stroke affects your thinking and reasoning depends on your stroke’s severity and location. Vascular dementia can also result from other conditions that damage blood vessels and reduce circulation, depriving your brain of vital oxygen and nutrients. It accounts for 5-10% of all dementia.
      • Lewy Body Dementia starts in the Occipital lobe in the brain. The occipital lobe is responsible for communicating with our retina. When there is damage done to the occipital lobe, due to Lewy Body Demetia, an individual may have signs or symptoms such as visual hallucinations. LBD accounts for about 5% of all dementia.
      • Frontal Temporal Dementia is the most common form of dementia that is diagnosed under the age of 60. FTD affects the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. It accounts for about 3% of all dementia. Signs and symptoms common with FTD are behavioral or personality changes or increased difficulty with speaking and communication.

Our Local Community

In our local three county area (Stearns, Sherburne, Benton), it was estimated in 2019 that there were 7,500 individuals living with diagnosed dementia. Another 22,500 living with diagnosed with Mild Cognitive Impairment, which can be a precursor to Alzheimer’s, or other dementias. That is 30,000 individuals living in our local communities living with MCI or dementia. The key word in the above statement is “diagnosed”. The true local numbers are likely double because many in our communities are living with dementia that are not yet diagnosed.

Need help?

If you suspect a loved one might have dementia, contact us to schedule an initial consultation or to answer any questions you have.