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Iowa Department of Health and Human Services

Alzheimer's Disease & Related Dementias Program - Dementia

Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a wide range of symptoms associated with cognitive impairment.  Dementia is not a specific disease but is a general term for the impaired ability to remember, think, or make decisions that interferes with everyday activities.  Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, accounting for 60-80% of cases.  While dementia mostly affects older adults, it is not a normal part of aging.  Normal aging may include some age-related memory changes such as:

  • Occasionally misplacing car keys
  • Struggling to find a word but remembering it later
  • Forgetting the name of an acquaintance

Umbrella with four people underneath demonstrating that dementia has a range of symptoms associated with cognitive impairmentSigns and symptoms of dementia can vary widely from person to person. People with dementia may show problems with:

  • Memory
  • Attention
  • Communication
  • Reasoning, judgement and problem solving
  • Visual perception beyond typical age-related changes in vision

Signs that may point to dementia include:

  • Getting lost in a familiar neighborhood
  • Using unusual words to refer to familiar objects
  • Forgetting the name of a close family member or friend
  • Forgetting old memories
  • Not being able to complete tasks independently

There is not a simple test to determine a dementia diagnosis.  Physicians must diagnose dementia and Alzheimer’s disease based on carefully reviewing medical history, laboratory tests and discussing changes in thinking, everyday functioning and behaviors.  Individuals experiencing changes in their memory should have a conversation with their health care provider.