A progressive decline in cognitive function due to damage or disease in the body beyond what might be expected from normal aging. Although dementia is far more common in the geriatric population, it may occur in any stage of adulthood. This age cutoff is defining, as similar sets of symptoms due to organic brain dysfunction are given different names in populations younger than adult. Dementia is a non-specific illness syndrome (set of signs and symptoms) in which affected areas of cognition may be memory, attention, language, and problem solving. Higher mental functions are affected first in the process. Especially in the later stages of the condition, affected persons may be disoriented in time (not knowing what day of the week, day of the month, or even what year it is), in place (not knowing where they are), and in person (not knowing who they are or others around them). Dementia, though treatable, is incurable. Symptoms of dementia can be classified as either reversible or irreversible, depending upon the etiology of the disease. Less than 10 percent of cases of dementia are due to causes which may presently be reversed with treatment. Causes include many different specific disease processes, in the same way that symptoms of organ dysfunction such as shortness of breath, jaundice, or pain are attributable to many etiologies. Without careful assessment of history, the short-term syndrome of delirium can easily be confused with dementia, because they have many symptoms in common. Some mental illnesses, including depression and psychosis, may also produce symptoms which must be differentiated from both delirium and dementia.

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