Defining Dementia

What is Dementia

Dementia is an ‘umbrella term’ used to describe a decrease in mental abilities severe enough to interfere with daily life. Dementia includes a group of symptoms such as memory loss, decreased ability to communicate, loss of judgement skills, difficulty making decisions and other issues that require critical thinking. While it may be true that as we age our mind may not be as sharp, dementia is not a normal part of aging.

What causes dementia

Dementia is caused by damage to brain cells, affecting the cells’ ability to communicate with each other. Many diseases can cause this damage. Dementia does not progress in the same way for everyone due to other contributing factors, such as other diseases present, genetics and lifestyle. The challenge is to understand dementia’s underlying patterns and to diagnose them early enough to make a difference in a person’s life.

Video: What is (and is not) dementia

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Why it’s challenging to diagnose dementia

“Currently, the identification and development of biomarkers for dementia is in its infancy” says Dr. Mario Masellis, one of the co-leads for ONDRI. Biomarkers (or biological indicators, for example,  certain proteins in the brain) are measurable signs that can help clinicians predict, diagnose, or monitor disease. “We need to work with the community to learn more about the pre-symptomatic stages of dementia,” Masellis continues.

Impacts of dementia on society

The number of Canadians living with cognitive impairment, including dementia, is well over 500,000. This number is estimated to grow to 1.4 million by 2031. Combined direct (medical) and indirect (lost earnings) costs of dementia were $33 billion per year in 2011; by 2040, these costs are estimated to skyrocket to $293 billion per year.1The pressures on family care partners and others directly affected are very high and mounting.

This makes innovative research, which addresses the complexity of causes and potential treatments for dementia, even more important.

Video: Enhance your communication with people living with dementia

To access closed captioning, or read the words, click on CC at bottom of the video


  1. Alzheimer.ca