Decoding Dementia
/ Categories: WELLNESS, 2022

Decoding Dementia

Have you ever walked into a room and forgotten why you came? This happens from time to time to people of all ages. It’s normal. But if you are over 50, you might wonder if you are beginning to develop dementia.

Dementia is a loss of memory associated with a loss of cognitive skills that affects your daily life. It is not a normal part of aging. People with dementia have difficulty thinking and planning that worsens over time. The rate of loss varies from person to person and type of dementia. Here’s what you need to know:

Cognitive impairment is associated with many conditions. Doctors diagnose dementia by taking a health history and conducting a physical exam. Sometimes, doctors may also review lab and imaging tests, which can help identify the cause of the problem. There are many different types of dementia but the most common types are Alzheimer’s disease and Vascular Dementia. Each type of dementia is associated with different physiological traits.  There are many different types of doctors that diagnosis and treat dementia including primary care physicians, neurologists, geriatricians, psychiatrists, psychologists and multispecialty memory clinics.

The precise cause of dementia is not known, but the risk of dementia increases with age. Dementia in younger people is often inherited. Frequently, dementia is related to other conditions, like heart disease and stroke, Parkinson’s disease, and depression, among others.

There is no cure for dementia, but there are medicines designed to slow the progression of the disease and to improve cognitive function. Medicines can also help improve mood and behavior. Doctors should consider what the person wants to do and what they can do and recommend strategies for closing the gap between the two so that the patient can enjoy a high quality of life for as long as possible.

Commonly recommended preventive steps relate to limiting the likelihood of getting the diseases that cause dementia, like stroke and heart disease. You can help prevent dementia by not smoking, drinking alcohol in moderation or not at all, maintaining a healthy weight, getting plenty of exercise, eating healthy foods, managing health problems (like diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol), and getting a good night’s sleep.

Staying socially involved also helps. People who are socially isolated are more likely to become depressed and suffer from cognitive decline. Instead, engage in book clubs, trips organized by local senior centers, game nights, and going to museums or performances with friends. All of these activities help maintain a healthy social network and preserve cognitive functioning.

The most important thing to do is to ask for help as soon as you or your family members have concerns. Getting help early will ensure the best chance of mitigating the symptoms and living as well as possible for as long as possible. Also, once a diagnosis of dementia is made, it is important to start planning for the future and obtain support for the patient and their caregivers.

Lisa Downing-Forget, MD, is an internal medicine physician who specializes in patients over the age of 60 at SVMC Internal Medicine, part of Southwestern Vermont Medical Center and Southwestern Vermont Health Care in Bennington.


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