Stanford Center for Memory Disorders

What is Dementia?

Dementia is not a specific disease. It is a descriptive term for a collection of symptoms that can be caused by a number of disorders affecting the brain. People with dementia have significantly impaired intellectual functioning that interferes with normal activities and relationships. They may lose their ability to solve problems and maintain emotional control, and they may experience personality changes and behavioral problems such as agitation, delusions, and hallucinations. While memory loss is a common symptom of dementia, memory loss by itself does not mean that a person has dementia. Behavioral neurologists and neuropsychologists, including the team at the Stanford Center for Memory Disorders, can help to determine if a patient's cognitive symptoms constitute the normal effects of aging or raise concerns for something more.

There are many disorders that can cause dementia. Neurodegenerative diseases, in which large numbers of neurons in the brain stop functioning, lose connections with other neurons, and ultimately die, represent one broad category. Alzheimer's disease is one example of a neurodegenerative disease. Along the wide spectrum of other conditions that may cause dementia are some disorders that are treatable or even reversible.

Types of Dementia

The list of possible causes of dementia is very long. Here are a few of the most common (and not-so-common) conditions:

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