The cause of dementia is unknown in many cases. Research is ongoing to better understand what causes dementia, but the underlying mechanism is a thought to be related to a build-up of proteins in the brain that interferes with how the brain functions or works.

Neurodegenerative diseases, like frontotemporal dementia, lead to abnormal protein build ups in the brain. Different protein build-ups are seen in different types of dementia. For example, proteins called beta-amyloid and tau are associated with Alzheimer’s disease while the protein alpha-synuclein is associated with Lewy body dementia. Changes in the blood vessels in the brain may result in vascular dementia. In a minority of cases, a reversible cause of a person’s dementia can be identified and treated. Screening for these reversible causes is part of the diagnostic evaluation for anyone with changes in memory or thinking.

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