What is dementia?

“Dementia is an overall decline in cognitive ability, usually impacting short-term memory (learning/recall new information) and another cognitive ability (or more), such as decline in executive skills (organization, decision making) or language, or visual-spatial skills,” says Karen Miller PhD, a neuropsychologist and geropsychologist as well as the senior director of the Brain Wellness and Lifestyle Programs at Pacific Neuroscience Institute in California.

“In dementia, these declines typically impact one’s ability to be completely independent (i.e., the person may have difficulty managing finances or medications, difficulty/impairment in driving, etc.),” she told Healthline.

Women make up about two-thirds of people with dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, according to a 2021 report.

One reason is that women live longer than men and dementia typically appears after age 80. Other possible explanations, according to Cognitive Vitality, a program of the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation, include:

  • Higher education is associated with lower rates of dementia. Many older women today were not afforded the same educational opportunities as men.
  • Dementia is linked to depression, and more women have depression than men
  • People who exercise are less likely to develop dementia and women exercise less than men

When women develop dementia, they decline faster than men do. Therefore, they can have a more severe illness.

Dementia occurs when neurons in the brain stop working or interacting with other brain cells, according to the National Institute of Aging.

Everyone loses some neurons as they age, but people with dementia have a more significant loss.

While many people over 85 have dementia, it is not considered a normal part of aging.


Types, symptoms of dementia

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, but it is not the only one.

A few other types of dementia include the following:

  • Frontotemporal dementia
  • Lewy body dementia
  • Vascular dementia

Some people can have a combination of two or more types of dementia.

Signs and symptoms of dementia include:

  • Experiencing memory loss, poor judgment, and confusion.
  • Difficulty speaking, understanding, and expressing thoughts, or reading and writing.
  • Wandering and getting lost in a familiar neighborhood.
  • Trouble handling money responsibly and paying bills.
  • Repeating questions.
  • Using unusual words to refer to everyday objects.
  • Taking longer to complete routine daily tasks.
  • Losing interest in normal daily activities or events.
  • Hallucinating or experiencing delusions or paranoia.
  • Acting impulsively.
  • Losing balance and problems with movement

It is important to note when symptoms are worsening, experts say.

“When people start noticing these symptoms, in themselves or a loved one, it may be time to see a doctor. The same is true for new changes, new symptoms, or a worsening of previous symptoms. There are some treatments – that can’t cure or reverse the damage. Still, they can possibly slow the progression of the disease, such as aducanumab and lecanemab,” Salinas said. “New treatments are another reason to see a doctor.”