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Cognitive Function, Dementia, and Alzheimer’s Disease

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Thinking, reasoning, and remembering are cognitive functions. Dementia is when those functions decrease much more significantly than what occurs with normal aging. In older people the most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. An incurable disease, it slowly impairs your memory and thinking skills and, eventually, the ability to care for yourself.

Bottom Line:

  • Researchers are investigating a variety of complementary health approaches, as well as diets, for preventing or slowing the progression of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. There is no strong evidence that any complementary health approach or diet can prevent cognitive impairment.
  • Researchers are also looking at approaches to help reduce the behavioral and emotional symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
  • For caregivers, taking a mindfulness meditation class may reduce stress more than just getting time off from providing care.


  • Don’t use complementary health approaches as a reason to postpone seeing a health care provider about memory loss. Treatable conditions, such as depression, bad reactions to medications, or thyroid, liver, or kidney problems, can impair memory.
  • Some complementary health approaches interact with medications and can have serious side effects. If you are considering replacing conventional medications with other approaches, talk to your health care provider.  

For more information on Alzheimer’s disease, including information on caregiver stress, visit the National Institute on Aging’s Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral Center Web site.

This page last modified April 15, 2016