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What is the Connection Between Memory Loss and Dementia?

Article Details
  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 27 July 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Memory loss and dementia are closely associated. Dementia is a neurological disorder characterized by loss of cognitive functions like storage and recall of memories, language skills, critical thinking, reasoning, judgment, and so forth. Memory loss often occurs in people with dementia and is sometimes the first sign that someone may be developing dementia. However, experiencing memory loss does not necessarily mean someone has dementia, and dementia is not always incurable; sometimes a causative factor can be identified and treated to resolve the neurological problems.

In dementia-associated memory loss, the key sign is that the person forgets recent events first. Someone may forget what has been done that day or in recent days, but be able to recall events in the past with perfect clarity. In advanced dementia, patients sometimes appear to be living in the past and they can become confused and extremely disoriented. Over time, the memory loss can worsen, taking more of the patient's memories away. Memory loss and dementia can create a cascade of symptoms, as the patient may become agitated or develop behavioral changes in response to the confusion and disorientation caused by the memory loss.

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Memory loss alone is not enough to diagnose someone with dementia. Memory loss and dementia are connected, but they are not identical. In order to be diagnosed with dementia, a patient must have another symptom of loss of cognitive functioning, like the inability to speak. On an evaluation, the patient may also demonstrate other signs of neurological problems. Imaging studies of the brain can sometimes show signs of physical changes, but not always, and some people have anomalies in their brains, but do not have dementia.

The interconnection between memory loss and dementia is well known, and many people grow concerned when older adults appear to be developing a faulty memory out of concern that dementia may be developing. However, some memory loss is a natural part of aging and should be expected, as changes to the brain occur throughout life, and starting in their 20s, people have less capacity for memory. Memory loss is a cause for concern if it becomes disruptive and is associated with other cognitive symptoms.

Understanding the link between memory loss and dementia can also be important for treatment. Patients with dementia commonly appear disoriented, confused, and upset as a result of the fact that the world around them does not mesh with what they remember about the world. Providing supportive treatment includes explaining situations and events to make patients feel more comfortable. Refraining from making changes to the environment around the patient can also be helpful, and some caregivers may choose not to correct patients who misidentify them as other people, in the belief that the correction would cause more agitation and discomfort for the patient.

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