During the month of June we recognize Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month, a disease that is becoming more prevalent among older Americans. A common mistake people make is assuming Alzheimer’s is just another word for dementia. Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia, and widely known for being the most common type.

Dementia itself is not considered a disease, rather it is a general term used to describe symptoms of memory loss, or inability to use reason or thinking skills. There are many types of dementia, and while it affects mostly people over the age of 65, it is not considered part of normal aging.

How Common is Alzheimer’s?

Currently, an estimated 6 million Americans have dementia caused by Alzheimer’s disease. But by 2050, this number is expected to reach 13 million. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for approximately 60% – 80% of all dementia cases.

Alzheimer’s disease is very complex and is not yet fully understood by scientists. Because of this, no drug or course of treatment is guaranteed to work. What causes Alzheimer’s disease is also not completely understood. Age-related changes in the brain such as damage to blood vessels or shrinking, genetics, and lifestyle factors are all thought to play a role in causing Alzheimer’s disease.

Other Types of Dementia

There are many different types of dementia, and many of them share similar symptoms, making it difficult for doctors to diagnose the correct form of dementia. Other forms of dementia include:

  • Frontotemporal dementia: Also known as FTD, it is a progressive form a dementia and occurs in people between the ages of 45-60 years. FTD affects nerve cells in the front and side of the brain. This type of dementia is rare, and there is currently no cure or treatment options for those diagnosed with FTD.
  • Lewy body dementia: Lewy body dementia is caused by an abnormal buildup of proteins in the brain called “Lewy bodies”. It is a progressive type of dementia, and is estimated to be the third most common type among Americans. 
  • Vascular dementia: Vascular dementia is caused by brain damage resulting from disrupted blood flow to the brain, following a stroke or brain hemorrhage. While symptoms of vascular dementia can start mild and gradually worsen over time, they typically occur right after a person suffers from a stroke.
  • Mixed dementia: Mixed dementia, as the name suggests, is a condition in which the brain presents symptoms of more than one type of dementia simultaneously. The most common form of mixed dementia is Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia.

Can Dementia be Prevented?

Because there is still much we don’t know about dementia, it is hard to understand what we can do to prevent it. Science suggests for vascular dementia, taking care of your vascular health by quitting smoking, eating a heart healthy diet, and exercising can help. Keep your brain active and working by reading, solving puzzles, and being social.

If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with dementia, it’s important to remember resources are available. To learn more about Alzheimer’s and dementia and how you can help, visit https://www.alz.org/wny