It’s normal to experience some memory changes as you age. But if memory loss affects your daily life, it may be a sign of dementia.

Dementia is the word used to describe several conditions that impact your ability to remember. Dementia can also affect your ability to focus and solve problems. 

The most common type of dementia is called Alzheimer’s disease. Other types of dementia are:

  • Frontotemporal dementia (FTD)

  • Lewy body dementia (LBD)

  • Mild cognitive impairment

  • Mixed dementia

  • Vascular dementia

Though common among older adults, dementia is not “just a standard part” of aging. With early diagnosis, symptoms of dementia can be delayed.

Symptoms and diagnosis

Dementia symptoms

Symptoms of dementia vary. That’s because different types of dementia affect different parts of the brain. Dementia symptoms may include:

  • Confusion

  • Difficulty speaking or understanding

  • Memory loss

  • Mood swings

  • Personality changes

  • Poor judgment

  • Trouble recognizing people and places

Diagnosing dementia

To diagnose dementia, your doctor will ask questions about your medical history and conduct a physical examination. Your doctor will also perform a mental status exam. This exam evaluates your ability to reason, think and remember.

Your doctor may order blood or urine tests to rule out other medical conditions that can cause similar symptoms to those caused by dementia. 

Your doctor also may order brain imaging tests to help diagnose dementia or rule out other conditions. Imaging tests used during a dementia diagnosis may include:

  • CT scan

  • MRI

  • PET scan

  • Single photon emission CT (SPECT)

Treatments and research

Dementia treatment

Treatment options

Medications can slow the progression of dementia symptoms. Medications are also used to improve mood and behavior.

Commonly recommended supplements include Vitamin E, ginkgo, omega-3s and turmeric.

Dementia prevention

Healthy lifestyle habits can reduce your risk for dementia or delay dementia symptoms. Prevention strategies include:

  • Brain exercises — Keep your brain active by learning new skills.

  • Good nutrition — Eat brain-healthy foods like leafy greens, berries, nuts and fish. Limit fried foods and sugar.

  • Healthy hearing — Hearing loss is linked to higher rates of dementia. Talk to your doctor right away if you notice hearing changes.

  • Physical activity — Regular exercise improves blood flow to your brain.

  • Sleep — Regular, high-quality sleep contributes to good brain health.

  • Socialization — People with social contact are less likely to develop dementia. Stay in touch with family, friends and neighbors. Consider volunteering or joining social clubs.

  • Stress management — Chronic stress can affect your brain function. Practice stress management techniques like deep breathing, meditation or yoga.

Understanding memory loss

The more we learn about memory loss, the better we become at preventing and treating it. UW Health memory care doctors participate in two University of Wisconsin research groups:

Meet our team

Experts on aging and the brain

Our geriatricians and neurologists lead dementia care at UW Health.

Geriatricians specialize in the care of older adults. Neurologists specialize in the care of conditions affecting the brain. Your care may also include:

  • Neuropsychologists (doctors focused on how the brain influences behavior)

  • Nutritionists

  • Palliative care experts (professionals who address emotional, social and spiritual needs)

  • Physical, occupational and speech therapists

Meet our team


Dedicated care for memory loss

The UW Health Memory Care Clinic is dedicated to the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of dementia. The clinic offers memory assessments at three Madison-area locations. The Memory Care Clinic is part of the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Institute’s memory clinic network.

UW Health memory care experts see patients at UW Hospital in Madison. UW Hospital is one of the nation’s top-ranked hospitals for geriatrics, neurology and neurosurgery.

Patient and support services

Ongoing support for dementia

Though dementia can be slowed, it cannot be cured. UW Health palliative care experts offer support as dementia progresses. 

Informational resources