Dementia is the name used 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. 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 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, concentrating, and using judgment. This includes not being able to recognize one’s own symptoms.
  • Changes in behavior and personality.

With dementia, nerve cells in the brain are gradually damaged or destroyed. Over time, parts of the brain begin to shrink. This often starts in the part of the brain that controls memory, reasoning, and personality. Other parts of the brain may not be affected until much later in the illness.

Dementia gets worse over time. Symptoms differ for each person, but there are three basic stages which may last from months to years:

  • Early stage: A person may seem forgetful, confused, or have changes in behavior. However, he or she 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. He or she may also become restless or moody.
  • Late stage: Alzheimer’s can cause severe problems with memory, judgment, and other skills. Help is needed with nearly every aspect of daily life.

At present, there’s no cure for dementia. But with proper care, many people can live comfortably for years:

  • Medicines are a key part of treatment. Some types can slow the progression of symptoms, such as memory loss. Others can ease mood, behavior, and sleep problems. These medicines work for some people but not for all.
  • Activity and exercise are good for body and mind. They may even slow the progression of the disease. Simple, repetitive activities are good choices.
  • Regular healthcare provider visits can help people keep track of symptoms and overall health.
  • The sleep-wake cycle can be mixed up in patients with dementia. They may function better being up at nighttime and sleeping during the daytime.
  • Social interactions are important to maintain.

For more information on dementia, visit the Health and Wellness page, and click on “Health Library” on the left-hand side.

Outer Banks Health is proud to announce its designation as the first Dementia-Friendly Hospital in the state of North Carolina. “Dementia friendly means recognizing that people with cognitive impairments have special needs and ensuring that those who care for and provide services for these individuals are trained in best practices,” said Marcia Bryant, TOBH vice president of clinical operations. “We made the decision to lead the way for other Dare County organizations and businesses, as well as hospitals across the state, because North Carolina has the ninth-fastest growing senior population in the U.S.”


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