Dementia is a progressive brain dysfunction (in Latin, dementia means irrationality), which results in a restriction of daily activities and in most cases leads in the long term to the need for care. Many diseases can result in dementia, the most common one being Alzheimer’s disease.

How Common is Dementia?

In our society of longer lifetime, the probability of suffering from dementia increases with advancing age. Dementia predominantly occurs in the second half of our life, often after the age of 65 – some experts think that this is the “price society has to pay” for our higher life expectancy and therefore the term “dementia” activates similar fears and repression mechanisms as “cancer” or “AIDS.”

The frequency of dementia increases with rising age from less than 2% for the 65-69-year-olds, to 5% for the 75-79 year-olds and to more than 20% for the 85-89 year-olds. Every third person over 90 years of age suffers from moderate or severe dementia (Bickel, Psycho 1996, 4-8). About half of those affected by dementia suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. About 5% of people above 65 years of age, about 20% of those over 80 years and about 30% of those over 90 suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. The relatives share their fate with many people who are equally affected.

Can Dementia Be Treated?

There are a number of favorable conditions which can ease the situation of the patient and his/her relatives – these conditions concern in particular the actual care and the organization of the environment. Improvements can be achieved through physical, emotional and also mental activation, for example with the help of physiotherapists or ergotherapists. These helpful approaches will be subject of the next units. There is even help for a number of physical problems such as incontinence, difficulties of food intake and problems of lying down.

In the early stage, training of thinking and memory functions should only be carried out carefully, otherwise there is the danger that the patient is always reminded of his/her diminishing mental abilities. This also applies to the formerly popular approach of reality orientation training.

As with numerous other diseases there is no cure for the illness but medication can improve disease symptoms. There are a number of drugs on the market today for improving brain function. Typically antidementia or psychotropic drugs are prescribed.

For more information about dementias go to our “Helpful Information” page.

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