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Understanding Dementia Q3 2021

Did you know that Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia?

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Helen Green

Closer to Home Project Lead, Dementia UK

Helen Green talks through some of the key questions she receives around Alzheimer’s disease, which is still the most common subtype of dementia but still so widely misunderstood.    

What is the difference between Alzheimer’s disease and dementia?  

Dementia is the umbrella term for a range of different conditions which affect the functioning of the brain – Alzheimer’s disease is one of these.  Alzheimer’s differs from some other forms of dementia in the way it affects the function and structure of the brain in all areas, due to shrinkage, changes to the ways in which chemicals behave, and the build-up of proteins. 

Is there a test for Alzheimer’s?  

There is not one single definitive test for Alzheimer’s disease – the diagnosis is based on a combination of tests and assessments. You can picture it as building a large jigsaw puzzle from lots of small pieces. A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is based on the progression of symptoms, clinical tests, cognitive functioning tests, physical health checks and a reliable history from the person or a family member.

Does it affect men and women differently? 

It is estimated that there are twice as many women as men affected by Alzheimer’s disease and the rate at which the illness progresses tends to be faster in females. It is known that females tend to live longer than males and that age is a risk factor for dementia. It is also suspected that the female hormone, oestrogen, may be a factor but the reasons why remain unclear.  

Research suggests that other risk factors such as heart problems and depression are more prevalent in females and so increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. However, at this time there is insufficient evidence to provide a clear answer.  

Is Alzheimer’s disease genetic?  

In general terms the answer is no. When there is a high prevalence of dementia in a family it tends to be down to similar lifestyle choices or other physical health issues that increase the risk. There are however some exceptionally rare forms of Alzheimer’s disease where there is a direct genetic link and affects people under the age of 60. 

How long does someone live for when they have Alzheimer’s disease? 

There is no way of predicting life expectancy for someone who is living with this condition due to the varying factors that affect the progression of dementia. Each person’s experience of living with dementia is unique.

People can get more information and support on the Dementia UK resource on getting a diagnosis here.

(Article originally appeared on the Dementia UK website Did you know that Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia? – Dementia UK

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