What is Dementia?

Dementia is a general term used to describe progressive and neurodegenerative diseases in which alterations in the chemical composition of the brain compromise one’s cognitive ability. Specifically, dementia is characterized by a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with everyday activities.

Dementia is sometimes incorrectly referred to as “senility” or “senile dementia” reflecting the widespread but incorrect belief that dementia is a normal part of aging. At this time, there is no cure or remedy for any type of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. The only thing that existing medication can do is lessen symptoms and delay disease progression in some people and, in the interim, help support their mood and quality of life.

There are two types of Dementia: Cortical vs. Subcortical Dementia

While these classifications are not always used, some physicians find it helpful to classify dementia into one of two groups, depending on the initial brain area that is primarily affected. There will typically be visible physical changes in the brain wherever the damage is, such as atrophy or shrinkage. The definition of cortical dementia is that it is a type of dementia that primarily targets the brain’s gray matter (in the cortex). Cortical dementia typically causes difficulties with language (such as word-finding or understanding others), social behaviors, and memory. Examples include Frontotemporal dementia, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Subcortical dementia targets the parts of the brain underneath the cortex, and are linked to the white matter of the brain. Subcortical dementias are more likely to impact personality and thought processes. Language and memory tend to be largely unaffected in the early stages of these conditions. Parkinson’s, Huntington’s disease, and AIDS dementia complex are subcortical dementias.

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