Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
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What is dementia?
Dementia is a collective name for progressive degenerative brain syndromes which affect memory, thinking, behaviour and emotion. Alzheimer's disease is the most common type of dementia, affecting up to 90% of people living with dementia. But there are a large number of conditions which cause the symptoms of dementia, as a result of changes that happen in the brain and the ultimate loss of nerve cells (neurons). Other types of dementia include vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies and fronto-temporal dementia (including Pick's disease).
What are the early symptoms of dementia?
Every person is unique and dementia affects people differently - no two people will have symptoms that develop in exactly the same way. An individual's personality, general health and social situation are all important factors in determining the impact of dementia on him or her. Symptoms vary between Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia, but there are broad similarities between them all. The most common signs are memory loss and the loss of practical abilities, which can lead to withdrawal from work or social activities. If you think that these problems are affecting your daily life, or the life of someone you know, you should talk to your doctor.
My mother has Alzheimer's disease. Will I get it?
There are a few very rare cases where Alzheimer's disease does run in families. In these cases there is a direct link between an inherited mutation in one gene and the onset of the disease. These tend to be cases of 'early onset' Alzheimer's disease, which affects those under the age of 65. In these cases, the probability that close family members (brothers, sisters and children) will develop Alzheimer's disease are one in two. Most cases of Alzheimer's disease are not of the type that is passed on directly in this way. If a family member has a normal form of Alzheimer's disease, the risk to close relatives is around three times higher than the risk for a person of a similar age who has no family history of the disease. It is thought that in these cases a person's genes may contribute to the development of the disease but do not cause it directly.
Is there a cure?
There is currently no cure for Alzheimer's disease or for most other causes of dementia, nor can a cure be expected in the near future. Researchers are still at the stage of delivering drugs that will slow down the progression of the disease, at least in some cases. They still do not know how to prevent the disease from occurring, how to stop its progression, or how to reverse its effects. It is hoped that more research into the causes of dementia will make effective treatment possible.
Are there any drug treatments for Alzheimer's disease?
Although there are no drugs that can cure Alzheimer's disease, there are a number of drug treatments that can help some people with Alzheimer's disease. The currently available treatments can slow down the progression of the disease in some cases for periods between 6 and 18 months. The main class of such compounds is the cholinesterase inhibitors. Other kinds of drugs are occasionally useful for controlling some of the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, such as sleeplessness and agitation. In general, however, the use of drugs such as sleeping pills or tranquilizers should be kept to a minimum if someone has Alzheimer's disease, as they can cause increased confusion. Non-drug treatmnets, including practical and emotional support, are important and effective in helping people with dementia and carers.
Can Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia be prevented?
Not enough is known about the causes of Alzheimer's disease for any specific preventative measures to be recommended. Although Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia are more common with increasing age, the trigger for the characteristic changes that occur in the brain tissue of people with Alzheimer's disease is not known. Genes are thought to play a part in the development of most cases of Alzheimer's disease. In rare cases, abnormal genes actually cause the disease. Much more commonly, genes are believed only to contribute to a person's susceptibility to the disease. It seems that, at least in some cases, factors in the environment may be necessary to trigger the illness. Although there are no specific preventative measures, what can be recommended is a healthy lifestyle - eating a healthy diet and staying physically, mentally and socially active. There is increasing research evidence to suggest that having a healthy lifestyle helps to reduce an individual's risk.
About Alzheimer's Disease International
ADI is the umbrella organization of 90 Alzheimer associations around the globe. We aim to help establish and strengthen associations around the world and to raise awareness about Alzheimer's disease and other causes of dementia. ADI works locally, by empowering national Alzheimer associations to promote and offer support to people with dementia and their care partners, and globally to focus attention on the epidemic and campaign for policy change from governments and the World Health Organization (WHO), with whom ADI has had consultative status since 2012.