Understanding dementia and its associated risks

Dementia is an overall term for a set of symptoms that are caused by disorders affecting the brain. Dementia affects everyone differently, but most people with dementia will experience loss of memory, loss of judgement and reasoning, and changes in their mood and behaviour.

Many dementias, like Alzheimer’s disease, have 3 characteristics.

  • Progressive: The symptoms will gradually get worse as more brain cells become damaged and eventually die.
  • Degenerative: The person’s brain cells (neurons) degenerate or break down.
  • Irreversible: The damage caused by most dementias, including Alzheimer’s disease, cannot be repaired.

WATCH THIS VIDEO to learn about how dementia affects us all – “Dementia by the Numbers”

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia?
The word dementia is used to describe a set of symptoms. Symptoms of the different forms of dementia can vary a great deal and can include memory loss, confusion, and mood and behaviour changes.

Dementia can be caused by a number of different diseases, with Alzheimer’s disease the most common. Other diseases that cause dementia include vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies and frontotemporal dementia. In some cases, dementia is thought to be caused by both Alzheimer’s disease and either vascular dementia or dementia with Lewy bodies. You might hear this called mixed dementia.
I keep forgetting things, have I got Alzheimer’s?
Most of us forget things every day, like people’s names or where we put our keys, but this is a normal part of life and not necessarily a sign of Alzheimer’s or dementia. In dementia, memory loss is more serious than forgetting things occasionally; it is memory loss that starts to interfere with everyday life. There are many reasons why people become forgetful. Medication can affect memory. Depression, anxiety, and vitamin deficiency can also cause forgetfulness, so it’s important to get the right diagnosis. If you are worried about your memory, it is a good idea to talk to your family doctor.
How can I reduce my risk of dementia?
There is no sure way to prevent dementia, but we do know some of the risk factors for dementia, and these can be changed. These risk factors are the same as for cardiovascular disease (like heart disease and stroke). By leading a healthy lifestyle and getting regular exercise you will be lowering your risk of these diseases, and it’s likely you will lower your risk of dementia too.

To keep healthy:
• Don’t smoke
• Keep active and exercise regularly
• Maintain a healthy weight
• Eat a healthy balanced diet
• Only drink alcohol within recommended limits
• Control high blood pressure
• Keep cholesterol at a healthy level.
What do I do if one of my parents has dementia?
First Link® helps connect people with dementia and their caregivers to support and education so everyone can better manage changes associated with the disease.

Offered by Alzheimer Societies across Ontario, First Link will help people with dementia and their caregivers:

• Understand dementia, what to expect and how to manage
• Handle dementia’s symptoms and improve quality of life
• Navigate the health-care system and learn about services and support in your community
• Connect with others on the same journey
• Receive on-going support so that they will feel more confident, whether they have dementia or are caring for someone with dementia

For more information on specific Alzheimer Society programs and services visit www.AlzheimerOntario.ca
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