Dementia

Dementia is a condition that causes memory loss and other thinking problems that get worse over time. Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) can help. Visit ProFind to locate a professional in your area.

On this page:

About Dementia

Dementia causes memory loss and other thinking problems that make it hard for the person to remember important information, solve problems, or plan their day. Everyday tasks like getting dressed, taking medicine, and paying bills may be affected.

Most types of dementia get worse over time and do not have a cure. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia.

Signs and Symptoms

In most cases, dementia starts with memory loss. As time goes by, other signs and symptoms develop, including 

  • distraction;
  • forgetfulness and confusion;
  • problems setting goals and making plans;
  • problems following conversations;
  • trouble telling others what they want and need;
  • personality changes;
  • depression; and
  • trouble eating and swallowing.

By the final stages, people with dementia may not be able to feed themselves, walk alone, or speak clearly.

Causes

Dementia itself is not a disease. Different brain diseases cause dementia. Some of the conditions that can cause dementia include

  • Alzheimer's disease;
  • multiple small strokes;
  • Lewy body dementia;
  • frontotemporal lobar degeneration;
  • Parkinson's disease; and
  • Huntington's disease.

Infections and reactions to medicine can cause symptoms that are like dementia. These symptoms may go away after treatment.

Seeing a Professional

Testing for Dementia

See a doctor if you have concerns about a loved one or about yourself. The doctor will run tests to see if there is another cause for the problems you’ve noticed. See an audiologist for hearing testing. Hearing problems can make a person seem confused. Hearing loss may also put a person at risk for dementia.

An SLP can test speech, language, and thinking skills. The SLP can also look at eating and swallowing functions, if those become a problem.

Treatment for People With Dementia

The goal of treatment is to maintain quality of life of the person with dementia for as long as possible.

Certain medicines can slow down dementia, but they do not make it go away. Treatment for memory and other thinking skills can help. This is true early on, and it also may help as the dementia gets worse.

An SLP can help a person with dementia stay as independent as possible. The SLP may work on attention, memory, problem solving, and higher-level thinking skills. Some strategies that the SLP may teach a person with dementia include

  • practicing learning important information;
  • using written words or pictures to help carry out tasks;
  • making "memory books" to help remember personal information; and
  • training family members and caregivers on how to communicate better with the person with dementia.

The SLP also can work with a person with dementia to make sure they can eat safely. This may include eating different types of foods or eating in different ways. Family members and caregivers can support the person with dementia to make sure they eat enough.

See ASHA information for professionals on the Practice Portal's Dementia page.

Tips for Talking With People Who Have Dementia

You can help a person with dementia by doing the following things:

  • Repeating key information to help them stay focused.
  • Speaking slowly and clearly.
  • Giving choices instead of asking open-ended questions. For example, ask, "Would you like coffee or tea?" instead of "What do you want to drink?"
  • Keeping information and questions short and simple.
  • Using written words or pictures to help with tasks. For example, post pictures that show how to get dressed, or write down the steps for how to prepare a simple meal.
  • Reminding the person about appointments or when to take medicine.

Family members and other caregivers may want to join a support group. Support groups can offer ways to handle the stress of caring for someone with dementia. Adult day care centers or services can also be helpful. They can give the person with dementia good care while allowing family and caregivers to take some time for themselves. 

Other Resources

Other resources on dementia are listed below. This list does not include every website on this topic. ASHA does not endorse the information on these sites.