There are many different types of dementia, all of which include an impairment of mental functions—such as thinking, reasoning and memory—severe enough to impact daily life. In fact, although many people use “dementia" to refer to a specific disease (usually Alzheimer's disease), it is really a catchall term for these mental impairments.

Treating And Managing Dementia Symptoms

Dementia symptoms generally begin to appear later in life, after or around age 60, with the most common form being Alzheimer's disease. Most forms of dementia are treatable, but not curable. For treatable, but degenerative forms (which get worse over time) of dementia, medication can help manage symptoms, although for most people, there are only modest benefits to treatment.

However, sometimes dementia symptoms may be caused by treatable conditions, and if the underlying conditions are treated, the patient's mental functions can at least partially, if not completely, improve. It is estimated that about 20 percent of patients with dementia symptoms actually have a curable condition, thus it is important to rule these out in order to make a firm diagnosis of a degenerative type of dementia.

Treatable Dementia Causes

Reversible conditions that can lead to dementia-like symptoms include:

  • Reactions to medications: These are especially common in the elderly, as the more medications one takes, the more likely it is that there will be negative interactions that could cause dementia. However, it is also possible for a reaction to a single medication to cause dementia.
  • Infections: Side effects of your body trying to fight off an infection, particularly fevers, can cause dementia. The most common infections with this effect are brain inflections or other infections that can affect the brain, such as meningitis, encephalitis, Lyme disease and untreated syphilis. Conditions that compromise the immune system, such as leukemia, can also cause dementia.
  • Metabolic/endocrine problems and nutritional deficiencies: Metabolic and endocrine problems that can cause dementia include hypoglycemia, thyroid problems, too little or too much sodium or calcium and impaired absorption of the vitamin B-12. Dehydration and a lack of B-1 or B-6 vitamins can also cause dementia.
  • Emotional distress: Conditions such as depression can cause dementia-like symptoms, especially with difficulties concentrating. However, depression in patients with non-reversible dementia is very common, so the original cause can be difficult to determine.
  • Poisoning: Different types of poisoning, such as heavy metal or carbon monoxide poisoning, can cause dementia, and ceasing exposure to the poisons will usually cure symptoms. Other types of poisoning that can lead to dementia include alcohol poisoning and heavy drug use.
  • Brain tumors: This is a rare cause of dementia, but it is possible for brain tumors to cause impairment of mental functions.
  • Heart and lung problems: Chronic heart or lung problems can keep the brain from getting all the oxygen it needs, which can cause dementia.