What you need to know about dementia

by Kaiser Permanente |
Smiling older person

Have you ever lost your eyeglasses … only to find them on top of your head? Or misplaced your car in a busy parking structure? We all have moments where we can’t remember a name or a place. But if it happens often, it might be a sign of something serious. While memory loss can be a normal part of aging, it may also be a symptom of a condition called dementia.

What is dementia?

Dementia is a loss of cognitive skills — like thinking, remembering, and reasoning — that affects your daily life. It's actually a group of symptoms that can be caused by many different diseases. These may include Alzheimer's disease, vascular dementia, frontotemporal lobar degeneration, and Lewy body dementia. Symptoms usually worsen over time, but how quickly they get worse is different for each person. Some people stay the same for many years. Others lose skills quickly. According to the World Health Organization, around 55 million people around the world have dementia.1

Signs and symptoms

Some people with dementia, especially in early stages, look and act like they always did. But as the disease progresses, it may become more obvious that you or a loved one is struggling. People with dementia may have problems with:

  • Memory loss
  • Impaired judgment and problem-solving
  • Personality changes, like increased agitation or restlessness
  • Confusion about where they are, what time it is, or who they’re talking to
  • Problems with coordination or balance, often leading to falls
  • A loss of social skills and awareness
  • Misplacing things or losing the ability to retrace steps
  • Seeing or hearing things that aren’t there (hallucinations)
  • Difficulty talking or remembering words
  • An inability to complete daily tasks

Memory loss is the most well-known sign of dementia, but it’s not enough to diagnose the disease. According to Yuri Bronstein, MD, a neurologist at Kaiser Permanente, "Memory can be affected by a wide range of diseases and conditions, both mental and physical."

The most common types of dementia

There are many different types of dementia, each with its own set of symptoms and causes. Many people have more than one type of dementia, which can make it hard to diagnose and classify. Dementia can also be caused by other conditions like Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and HIV. To learn more about these and other conditions that can lead to dementia, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website. The 4 most common types of dementia are Alzheimer's disease, vascular dementia, frontotemporal lobar dementia, and Lewy body dementia.

Alzheimer's disease

The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer's disease. It makes up 60% to 80% of all cases.2 Alzheimer's starts with small memory problems and gets worse over time, making it hard to remember people and have a conversation. There's currently no cure for Alzheimer's disease. But there are medicines that may help control symptoms and make it easier to live with.

Vascular dementia

The second most common cause of dementia is called vascular dementia, which accounts for about 10% of cases.3 It results from problems with the blood vessels that go to the brain, usually because of one or more strokes. Symptoms can include problems with memory, decision-making, and talking. If you have more strokes or mini-strokes, the symptoms may get worse.

Frontotemporal lobar degeneration

Frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD) is another common cause of dementia, and may cause up to 10% of all cases.4 It results from damage to neurons in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. One common form of FTLD is primary progressive aphasia. This type of dementia affects language skills, speaking, writing, and comprehension.

Lewy body dementia

Lewy body dementia is less common, accounting for about 5% of dementia cases.5 People with this condition have a buildup of abnormal protein particles in their brain tissue, called Lewy bodies. In addition to more typical symptoms like memory loss, this form of dementia may cause movement or balance problems.

Risk factors

Age, genetics, and certain health conditions are 3 important risk factors for dementia.


Dementia isn’t a normal part of the aging process. Many older people enjoy good brain health throughout their lives. But as you get older, you have a greater chance of getting dementia.


Having a family member with dementia increases your risk, but it's not a guarantee you'll develop it too. Both genes and lifestyle can also play a role.

Health conditions

Certain health conditions also increase your risk. These include high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol.

Lifestyle changes can lower the risks of dementia

You can’t change some risk factors, like age and genetics. But certain healthy habits can help you lower your risk. Lifestyle changes that can protect your brain’s long-term health include:

  • Keeping your mind sharp by challenging yourself with puzzles, games, and other brain-boosting activities
  • Staying social by making plans with friends, joining a club or group, or just having a good old-fashioned chat
  • Keeping high blood pressure, diabetes, and cholesterol under control
  • Getting help for hearing problems, so you can continue to engage with the world around you
  • Making time for regular exercise you enjoy, whether it's taking a daily walk or going for a swim
  • Quitting smoking to improve your memory, focus, and overall health
  • Fueling your brain with nutrient-rich foods such as fish, nuts, and leafy greens
  • Getting a good night's sleep by aiming for 6 to 8 hours of shut-eye each night
  • Taking time to chat with friends and loved ones — in person, over the phone, or online
  • Prioritizing your mental health by getting help for depression or anxiety
  • Limiting alcohol and avoiding drugs like marijuana

Caring for someone with dementia

Being a caregiver is one of the most selfless and profound ways you can support a loved one with dementia. It’s a deeply meaningful yet challenging task. Taking care of yourself is your most important step as a caregiver. Caregiving can be stressful, even in the best of situations. It's normal to feel overwhelmed and stressed, and it's okay to reach out for support. We’re here to support you every step of the way. Visit our website to learn more and find resources to support your caregiving journey.

Be part of the solution

While there’s still research to be done, there’s hope for improving treatment and finding a cure. People who want to help may consider participating in a study. Volunteering for a clinical study can help researchers find a cure. You may find you’re more inspired to stay active and track your progress when you’re part of a clinical study. Many researchers today are looking for biomarkers that can help them find early signs of rapidly progressive dementias, like autoimmune encephalitis. Your support could help doctors find dementia early and lead to better ways to prevent and treat it.

Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned

Mild memory loss is common with aging, and some symptoms may simply be caused by stress. But if you have symptoms that are worrying you — or if they're worsening over time — it's best to speak with your doctor.

"Dementia," World Health Organization, September 20, 2022.

"About Dementia," CDC, April 15, 2019.

See note 2.

"Frontotemporal Disorders," National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, January 20, 2023.

Joseph P. M. Kane et al., "Clinical Prevalence of Lewy Body Dementia," Alzheimer’s Research & Therapy, February 15, 2018.