Dementia is characterized by a decline in cognition, behavioral disturbances, and interference with daily functioning and independence. Diagnosis is sometimes delayed as patients or family members often misattribute obvious manifestations of cognitive decline to normal aging rather than to the onset of a degenerative disease. Many physicians do not perform mental status examinations or do not use them effectively to detect early symptoms. Clinical markers are available to decrease the difficulty in distinguishing dementia from depression and confusional states such as delirium. Alzheimer's disease (AD) is the most common form of dementia; others include rapidly progressive dementias, dementias associated with strokes and Parkinson's disease, and frontotemporal dementias. Often, AD coexists with other forms of dementia. Sensitivity to early warning signs, interviews with family members, and mental status examinations are essential to early detection of AD, and will prove useful to primary-care physicians who care for older patients.
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