Understanding Dementia - VA Portland Health Care System
Attention A T users. To access the menus on this page please perform the following steps. 1. Please switch auto forms mode to off. 2. Hit enter to expand a main menu option (Health, Benefits, etc). 3. To enter and activate the submenu links, hit the down arrow. You will now be able to tab or arrow up or down through the submenu options to access/activate the submenu links.

VA Portland Health Care System

Veterans Crisis Line Badge
My HealtheVet badge
EBenefits Badge

Understanding Dementia

Understanding Dementia Image

Dementia is a group of symptoms caused by disorders that affect the brain. One common symptom of dementia is serious memory loss that interferes with your activities of everyday life. Depending on the type of dementia, these problems may happen slowly over months or years. Or they may happen more suddenly. Not every memory problem is a sign of something serious.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Understanding Dementia

Dementia is the name for a group of brain conditions that make it harder to remember, reason, and communicate. The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. Other types include vascular dementia, frontotemporal dementia, and Lewy body dementia. Years ago, dementia was often called “senility.” It was even thought to be a normal part of aging. We now know that it’s not normal. It’s caused by ongoing damage to cells in the brain.

Symptoms of dementia

Symptoms differ depending on which parts of the brain are affected and the stage of the disease. The most common symptoms include:

  • Memory loss, including trouble with directions and familiar tasks
  • Language problems, such as trouble getting words out or understanding what is said
  • Difficulty with planning, organizing, concentration, and judgment. This includes people not being able to recognize their own symptoms.
  • Changes in behavior and personality

The stages of dementia

Dementia is a progressive disease. This means it gets worse over time. Symptoms differ for each person, but there are three basic stages. Each may last from months to years.

  • Early stage. A person may seem forgetful, confused, or have changes in behavior. However, they may still be able to handle most tasks without help.
  • Middle stage. More and more help is needed with daily tasks. A person may have trouble recognizing friends and family members, wander, or get lost in familiar places. They may also become restless or moody.
  • Late stage. Late stage dementia can cause severe problems with memory, judgment, and other skills. Help is needed with nearly every aspect of daily life.

Signs of dementia

The signs can vary depending on the type and cause of the dementia. Some of the signs include:

  • Changes in mood and personality
  • Mild memory loss and confusion
  • Not being able to follow instructions
  • Asking the same questions over and over
  • Getting lost in places the person knows well
  • Misplacing things in odd places
  • Trouble finding the right words or having a fluid conversation

Treating dementia

Right now, dementia has no cure. But with proper care, many people can live well for years.

  • Activity and exercise. Both are good for body and mind. Simple, repetitive activities are good choices. Continue to enjoy relationships with family and friends, hobbies, and outings.
  • Regular healthcare provider visits. This will help keep track of and support management of symptoms and overall health.
  • Medicines. They can help manage some symptoms, such as memory loss. But they can also cause side effects that some people can’t tolerate.
Visit Veterans Health Library - Understanding Dementia to learn more about the different types and causes of dementia and how dementia affects the brain.

Warning Signs of Dementia

Warning signs should be shared with your healthcare team. They include:

  • Asking the same questions over and over again
  • Becoming lost in places you know well
  • Not being able to follow directions
  • Getting very confused about time, people, and places
  • Not taking care of yourself – eating poorly, not bathing, or being unsafe

Warning signs alone do not mean you have dementia. However, they may be a sign that you should be checked by your healthcare provider. A number of other medical problems may be mistaken for dementia, such as hearing and vision loss, reactions to medicines, and depression. These conditions should be ruled out before dementia is diagnosed.


An exam by your healthcare provider can help spot whether changes in your memory and thinking are due to dementia or another problem. It can also help find out what treatment is best. After the exam, you can discuss the right treatment and support for you. You can also get help with future planning.

Visit Veterans Health Library - Warning Signs of Dementia to learn more. 

Myths and Facts About Dementia

What’s true about dementia, and what’s just a myth?

Test what you know at Veterans Health Library – Myths and Facts About Dementia.

Other Resources

To learn more about brain health and tips for taking care of your brain health, visit VA Geriatrics and Extended Care.


Get Updates

Subscribe to Receive
Email Updates