Alzheimer's disease and related dementias
What is dementia?
Alzheimer’s disease is an age-related brain disorder that gradually destroys a person’s ability to remember, think, learn and carry out even simple tasks. Dementia describes a variety of diseases and conditions that damage brain cells and impair brain function, which includes Alzheimer's disease. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia and accounts for sixty to eighty percent of cases.
It is often difficult to distinguish among the types of dementias. Some of the change processes in the brain are similar in the different types of dementia. Consequently people with the different types of dementia and their families face many similar challenges.
Common types of dementia:
- Alzheimer's disease
- Vascular dementia
- Dementia with Lewy Bodies (DLB)
- Mixed dementia
- Parkinson's disease dementia
- Frontotemporal dementia
- Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease
- Normal pressure hydrocephalus
- Huntington's disease
- Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome
Our brain health and our thinking and reasoning abilities, called cognition, may decline as we get older. Changes are gradual; they vary from no change to small changes (mild congitive impairment) or severe changes (dementia).
Most agree that the components of good brain health include:
- Ability to plan and carry out tasks
- Remembered skills
- The ability to live a purposeful life
Some people never develop a serious decline in cognitive function and not all who develop mild cognitive impairment develop dementia. Talk to a health care professional about concerns regarding changes in memory, thinking or reasoning.
Causes of Alzheimer's disease and related dementias
The causes of Alzheimer’s disease are not currently known, but research suggests a combination of genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors may contribute and affect each individual differently. The most recognized risk factor for developing cognitive decline and dementia is advancing age. According to the National Institute on Aging, the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease doubles every 5 years after age 65. The number of people with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia increases dramatically after age eighty.
Who has Alzheimer's disease and related dementias?
Experts estimate more than 5.5 million Americans may have Alzheimer's disease. More than ninety percent of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia cases occur in people age sixty and older. A small number of people, age thirty to sixty years, develop “early-onset” Alzheimer’s disease. This “early-onset” form of the disease often runs in families.
In American communities, only about half of the people who would meet the criteria for Alzheimer’s disease or related dementias have been diagnosed. In addition, there is a higher incidence of Alzheimer's disease and dementia among Blacks and Hispanics compared to non-Hispanic Whites.
The Alzheimer's Association estimates 14 million Americans will have Alzheimer’s disease by 2050, with many more affected by other forms of dementia.
Prevention and treatment
Currently there are no medications or other interventions that definitively prevent, treat or cure these conditions and medical professionals are unable to diagnose the disease before symptoms occur.
Scientists are evaluating whether strategies like exercise, changes in food habits, maintaining relationships with friends and family, or brain games can prevent or slow Alzheimer’s disease or related conditions. These activities also could improve quality of life for the person with memory loss and the care partner. The medical field is still learning about this disease, and health professionals' knowledge and understanding continues to grow as research, technology, and clinical practices evolve.
Find brain health resources and tips for healthy aging from the National Institute on Aging's What is Brain Health? campaign.
Minnesota Board on Aging – The Minnesota Board on Aging is the state aging agency for Minnesota. Find resources for caregivers and older adults, including information on housing, advance care planning, insurance, prescription help and other social services related to aging across the state. Legislative reports can be found on the Alzheimer's Disease Working Group page, as well as information about upcoming working group meetings.
Alzheimer's Association - Minnesota-North Dakota Chapter - This is the local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association and can help connect people with education programs, support groups, advocacy opportunities and care resources.
ACT on Alzheimer's - ACT on Alzheimer’s is a statewide collaboration of community members, health care providers, government officials, caregivers, people with Alzheimer’s, academics and businesses in Minnesota. ACT on Alzheimer's has also created an Alzheimer's Health Equity Call to Action to explore disparities in dementia care.
Live Well at Home - Individuals can complete a quiz and step-by-step guide to develop a housing plan best-suited to their needs. This includes cost estimates and comparisons for the services, programs and resources needed for that person to continue living at home.