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Dementia causes memory loss and problems thinking. These problems will get worse over time. There are treatments that can slow down dementia. Speech-language pathologists, or SLPs, can help.

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About Dementia

When you think of dementia, you may think about someone losing his memory. Dementia does cause memory loss. It also causes other problems that make it hard for the person to take care of himself. He may have trouble solving problems, paying attention, or planning his day. Tasks like getting dressed, taking medicine, and paying bills may become hard.

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 of Dementia

In most cases, dementia starts with memory loss that slowly gets worse. A person with dementia may also have

  • confusion
  • problems at work
  • problems paying bills or taking care of their house
  • personality changes
  • depression
  • problems following simple directions
  • trouble telling others what they want and need
  • trouble eating and swallowing

By the final stages, the person may not be able to feed herself, walk alone, or speak clearly.

Causes of Dementia

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, or multi-infarct dementia
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Huntington's disease
  • Lewy body dementia
  • frontotemporal degeneration
  • Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease

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

Testing for Dementia

You should take your loved one to see a doctor if you have concerns. The doctor will run tests to see if there is another cause for your loved one’s problems. Other professionals can help if he has problems walking or taking care of himself. It is important to have his hearing tested. Hearing problems can make a person seem confused. Hearing loss may also put a person at risk for dementia.

A speech-language pathologist, or SLP, can test speech, language, and thinking skills. The SLP can also look at how well your loved one eats and swallows, if that becomes a problem.

Treatments for People With Dementia

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

An SLP can help your loved one 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 you and your loved one include:

  • Practicing learning important information
  • Using written words or pictures to help him carry out tasks
  • Making "memory books" to help him remember personal information
  • Training you and others on how to communicate better with your loved one

The SLP can work with your loved one to make sure he can eat safely. He may need to eat different types of foods or eat in different ways. Your loved one may need support from you to eat enough.

The goal of treatment is to maintain your loved one’s quality of life for as long as possible.

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

Tips for Talking With People Who Have Dementia

You can help your loved one by:

  • Repeating key information to help her stay focused.
  • Giving him 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 her do tasks. For example, post pictures that show how to get dressed. Or, write down the steps for how to prepare a simple meal.
  • Reminding him about appointments or to take his medicine.

You and other caregivers may want to join a support group. You can learn how to deal with the stress of caring for someone with dementia. You may also want to look into adult day care centers or services. They can give your loved one good care while allowing you to take some time for yourself. It is important to take care of yourself and prevent burnout.

To find a speech-language pathologist near you, visit ProFind.

Other Resources

This list does not include every website on this topic. ASHA does not endorse the information on these sites.