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Prev Chronic Dis. 2006 Apr;3(2):A34. Epub 2006 Mar 15.

Dementia and its implications for public health.

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Division of Adult and Community Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4770 Buford Hwy NE, Mail Stop K-67, Atlanta, GA 30341, USA.



With the aging of the U.S. population, a better understanding of the presentation and impact of dementia is essential to the future of public health. Dementia refers not to a single disorder but to a number of syndromes characterized by diverse behavioral, cognitive, and emotional impairments. Because dementia is costly in terms of both personal suffering and economic loss, an understanding of its prevalence, risk factors, and potential interventions is emerging as an increasingly important facet of public health and health care delivery. Recent advances in the understanding of its presentation, course, and relevant interventions have taken place.


We identified articles for review primarily by conducting a Medline search using the subject headings dementia, mild cognitive impairment, Alzheimer's disease, vascular dementia, frontotemporal dementia, and Lewy body dementia. Other relevant studies were elicited through a Medline search using the subject headings mental disorders and stigma.


Dementia represents a diverse category of syndromes characterized by deficits in memory, cognitive function, and behavior. Symptoms associated with dementia appear to be distributed along a continuum, with even subsyndromal presentations affecting the health of older adults and meriting intervention. To promote cognitive functioning and independence among older adults, public health interventions need to facilitate both early detection and treatment of dementia. The availability of adult day care and respite services is important in maintaining the health and quality of life of individuals caring for older adults with dementia. Recent advances in the treatment of dementia may slow the course of cognitive decline, thereby enhancing the quality of life of older individuals as well as decreasing costs associated with institutional care.


Despite the growing availability of pharmacologic and psychosocial interventions that are potentially helpful to people with dementia and their caregivers, the majority of older adults with dementia do not receive appropriate treatment. With the aging of the U.S. population, efforts to foster recognition of dementia and its treatments and to destigmatize them are emerging as an increasingly important facet of public health intervention.

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