Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, affecting almost 500,000 people in the UK.
The term “dementia” describes a loss of mental ability associated with gradual death of brain cells. Dementia is not a disease but a syndrome (collection of symptoms) that results from damage to the brain. These symptoms can be caused by a number of conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease. The most common symptoms include:
- memory loss
- thinking speed
- mental agility
People with dementia can become apathetic or uninterested in their usual activities, and have problems controlling their emotions. They may also find social situations challenging, lose interest in socialising, and aspects of their personality may change.
A person with dementia may lose empathy (understanding and compassion), they may see or hear things that other people do not (hallucinations), or they may make false claims or statements.
As dementia affects a person’s mental abilities, they may find planning and organising difficult. Maintaining their independence may also become a problem. A person with dementia will therefore usually need help from friends or relatives, including help with decision making.
The exact cause of Alzheimer’s disease is unknown, although a number of things are thought to increase your risk of developing the condition. These include:
- increasing age
- a family history of the condition
- previous severe head injuries
- lifestyle factors and conditions associated with cardiovascular disease
Alzheimer’s disease is most common in people over the age of 65, and affects slightly more women than men. The risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia increases with age, affecting an estimated one in every six people over the age of 80. However, around 1 in every 20 cases of Alzheimer’s disease affects people between 40 and 65 years of age.