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What is Dementia?

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The word dementia is derived from two Latin words meaning "away" and "mind".  Dementia is not a specific disease but a descriptive term for a collection of symptoms that can be caused by a number of disorders that affect the brain.

Dementia involves an acquired chronic deterioration of intellectual function and other cognitive skills severe enough to interfere with one’s ability to perform activities of daily living (ADLs) and one’s ability to maintain relationships [1].

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) defines dementia as "a general progressive deterioration of cognitive status in comparison to previous level of functioning that is often accompanied by changes in psychological and emotional states such as depression, agitation, aggression and apathy" [2].

Dementia is a major medical, social and economic problem that will get worse in the future as the number of older people in the population increases.



1. Beers MH, Berkow R, editors. The Merck manual of diagnosis and therapy. New Jersey: Whitehouse Station; 1999.

2. American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM IV) 4th edition. Washington: The Association; 1994.

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