Dementia describes symptoms that broadly affect a person’s cognitive functioning. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia.

Depending on the type and cause, dementia can affect someone’s:

  • memory
  • thinking and focus
  • problem-solving abilities
  • language use
  • visual perception

Alzheimer’s disease is a specific type of dementia. It involves progressive damage to brain cells, resulting in memory loss and a decline in other aspects of thinking.

This article looks at the types of dementia, specifically Alzheimer’s disease, and the symptoms and treatment options associated with both.

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Dementia describes a collection of symptoms with no specific cause. It can affect a wide range of mental functions. Many different conditions have links with dementia.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. One review indicates that around 70% of people with dementia have Alzheimer’s disease. However, there are other types and causes, including:

Some factors and conditions can trigger symptoms that resemble those of dementia. These include:

It is possible to have multiple types of dementia. The term for this is mixed dementia.

Information for caregivers

As a person’s condition progresses, they may need help reading or understanding information regarding their circumstances. This article contains details that may help caregivers identify and monitor symptom progression, side effects of drugs, or other factors relating to the person’s condition.

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Causes and risk factors

The cause depends on the type, but the exact causes of many forms of dementia are currently unclear.

Dementia is not an inevitable part of aging, but age is one of the main risk factors. Roughly one-third of people ages 85 years and older may have a type of dementia. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 5% of people ages 65 to 74 years, 13.2% of people ages 75 to 84 years, and 33.4% of people ages 85 years or older have Alzheimer’s.

It is possible to develop dementia at a younger age, but the condition is more common among older adults.

Learn more about the symptoms of dementia in older adults.

Warning signs and symptoms

The symptoms of dementia range in severity, and they also vary depending on the area of the brain that the condition affects. Typically, early signs on the condition highlight a slow decline in memory, thinking, and reasoning skills. The Alzheimer’s Society states the most common symptoms include:

  • memory loss
  • difficulty concentrating
  • difficulty with language and communication
  • misunderstanding what a person sees
  • confusion
  • changes in mood or difficulty controlling emotions

Symptoms can take time to appear, and significant damage may occur before a person visits a doctor. This may make treatment more challenging.

Learn more about the early signs of dementia.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. Although it can be difficult to distinguish from other types of dementia, the causes and characteristic symptoms of Alzheimer’s can allow health experts to differentiate it.

In Alzheimer’s disease, researchers believe that a buildup of unusual proteins, known as amyloid and tau, forms plaques and tangles in the brain and causes symptoms.

These proteins surround brain cells and can affect their ability to communicate. This eventually causes damage to the cells until they can no longer function.

Learn about the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Warning signs and symptoms

Alzheimer’s disease causes specific symptoms because of the areas of the brain it affects. Early signs and symptoms include difficulty remembering things and confusion.

In time, a person may also experience:

  • disorientation
  • mood and behavioral changes
  • confusion about times, places, and events
  • unfounded suspicions about people around them
  • difficulty using and understanding words
  • physical problems, such as difficulty swallowing and walking

Alzheimer’s and dementia resources

To discover more evidence-based information and resources for Alzheimer’s and dementia, visit our dedicated hub.

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There is currently no cure for dementia, and current treatments cannot reverse the damage. However, if symptoms arise due to vitamin deficiencies or drug use, there may be options to prevent the condition from progressing.

Other treatment options depend on the type of dementia.

Treatments for Alzheimer’s disease aim to relieve symptoms and could involve:

  • taking medications
  • ensuring personal comfort and safety
  • having exposure to sunlight and getting regular exercise, which can help with sleep
  • undergoing cognitive training or cognitive rehabilitation therapy to help develop habits that help manage daily life

Some drugs aim to treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, while others help manage related issues, such as sleep problems, anxiety, or other symptoms. The person and their caregiver will need to work with a doctor to find suitable treatments at each stage.

Some lifestyle strategies that contribute to overall health and may help prevent or slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia include:

Read on to learn more about Medicare and dementia care.

Many types of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, are progressive conditions. This means that signs and symptoms of the condition may be relatively mild at first but worsen with time. However, dementia affects everyone differently and the rates of progression vary widely.

There is currently no cure, but treatment may help manage the symptoms.

The outlook for people with dementia depends on the cause. According to a 2022 review, a person who receives a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 65 years will live, on average, another 4–8 years. However, some people live up to 20 years after symptoms first appear.

Learn more about life expectancy with dementia.

Some FAQs about Alzheimer’s disease and dementia may include:

How is Alzheimer’s different from dementia?

Dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability. It describes conditions that impact a person’s ability to think, remember, or make decisions. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia.

How can you tell if someone has dementia or Alzheimer’s?

Dementia is an overarching term describing symptoms that affect thinking. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for most types of dementia. A doctor may be able to differentiate Alzheimer’s disease from other types of dementia due to its characteristic features of progressive memory loss and cognitive decline.

Each type of dementia has distinct causes and characteristics. For example, health experts understand that a buildup of two substances inside the brain, known as amyloid and tau, can result in Alzheimer’s. However, vascular dementia occurs due to problems with the blood supply to parts of the brain.

How long can you live with dementia?

Living with dementia lowers a person’s life expectancy. Many different factors can influence how long a person may live with dementia, such as the type of dementia and their general health. After a diagnosis of dementia, a person typically lives approximately 4 to 8 more years, although some people live much longer than this.

How quickly does dementia progress?

Dementia affects people in different ways. As such, it is very difficult to predict how quickly a person’s dementia may progress. The rate of progression can vary depending on genetics, age, overall health, and the type of dementia they have.

However, health experts note that dementia generally progresses through three stages: early, middle, and late. Identifying a person’s stage can help shape treatment plans and options.

Dementia is a condition that affects a person’s ability to think. Specifically, it can impact their memory, reasoning, mood, and other features. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, but there are various types and causes. Treatment will depend on the cause but it may involve medications and certain lifestyle strategies.

Read on to learn more about caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease.