What is dementia?

Dementia is a common disease. In the Netherlands, approximately 250,000 people have a form of dementia. The main characteristic of dementia is memory loss. Dementia is primarily a disease of old age. 10% of people over 65 years old and 40% of people over 90 years old suffer from dementia. What is the best thing to do if you think that someone close to you is starting to develop dementia? The word dementia comes from Latin, and it literally means ‘despiritualization’. In someone with dementia, the brain is affected, causing its functions to deteriorate. The dementia process is irreversible, but the rate of decline can vary greatly. The person himself often has little insight into the illness. That is why it is important that the partner and/or family gain this insight.

Recognizing dementia

It is useful to know how to recognize (early) dementia. It is nice to know this as soon as possible. A person with dementia often has a number of problems that occur simultaneously. Memory limitations, orientation problems, behavioral changes, mood swings and reduction of intellectual skills. The memory limitation is usually noticeable at first. The person with dementia has difficulty remembering names or appointments, and can often remember little of something that has just been told to him. Problems with orientation are also common. This may mean that someone no longer remembers the correct day or time, or that someone no longer knows how to find their way. Problems with recognizing people can also occur. The behavior or feelings of the person with dementia can also change. Sometimes a person with dementia becomes sad or rebellious when they notice that they are functioning less well than normal. Dementia does not happen overnight, but it is a gradual process. In the beginning, people in the immediate environment often have a strange feeling, they sense that something is going on, but what? Once it is known that it is dementia, previous events often fall into place.


If you are unsure whether or not someone has dementia, it is wise to talk to others about it. Sometimes that is difficult, because you don’t want to just call someone demented, when that is not the case at all. If it concerns a family member, you can talk to other family members about it to see if they notice the same thing. And with friends, maybe with other friends, or family. Everyone looks at it differently and experiences the person in different situations. This way you get a very complete picture. Suppose it concerns dementia, if you express your doubts you will at least be caught early. The people involved deal with dementia in very different ways. Some are very good at hiding the fact that they have limitations. Others really don’t realize anything is going on. Outside of family and friends, try to have a conversation with the person themselves.

Visit a doctor

If you suspect that your partner or family member has dementia, it is wise to visit a doctor. This person can examine and refer any demented person if necessary. There are people with dementia who deny that there is anything wrong with them. They will therefore postpone or refuse a visit to the GP. In that situation you can combine it with, for example, a check-up for high blood pressure. You can also appeal to his compassion ‘I am worried, do it to reassure me’. You can also make the appointment in advance. If it really doesn’t work, you can also request a home visit, which is then supposedly unexpected. It is an idea to visit your doctor in advance to discuss your suspicions before you go together. Make sure that you always come along as a partner or family member.

The diagnose

If the GP recognizes the complaints as dementia, you will often be referred to a memory clinic at a hospital or to a dementia specialist in an Alzheimer’s center. You will usually come into contact with a neurologist, psychologist or geriatrician. It is then investigated what the person concerned can still do and what he or she has difficulty with. Tests are administered that provide an impression of memory, concentration, perception, intellectual skills and planning ability. Discussions are also held with those around the person being examined, and the observations of the specialist are listened to. Sometimes an MRI scan is made or, for example, an examination of cerebrospinal fluid. After these examinations, it is clear whether the person being examined has dementia, and if so, what form it is. Based on this information, a plan for the future can be made, together with the specialist and environment of the person concerned.
When diagnosed with dementia, there is sometimes relief, because mood swings and certain behaviors suddenly fall into place. There is often also sadness, because it is a serious, incurable disease.

read more

  • Different forms of dementia
  • Treatment and management of dementia
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