What is the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia?

Dementia is the word used to describe a set of symptoms. Symptoms tend to vary a great deal depending on different forms of dementia. Dementia can be caused by other diseases, Alzheimer’s being the most common. Other causes of dementia include vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies and frontotemporal dementia. In some cases, dementia is thought to be caused by both Alzheimer's disease and either vascular dementia or dementia with Lewy bodies. You may hear this called mixed dementia.

Does dementia run in the family?

Dementia is most common in the elderly, so many of us will have a relative living with the condition, but this does not mean we will inherit it. Most of the time the genes we inherit from our parents will only have a small effect on our risk of dementia. In most cases our likelihood of developing dementia will depend on our age and lifestyle, as well as the genes we have.

Are there more women than men with dementia?

Yes, in the UK, 61% of people with dementia are female and 39% are male. This is mainly due to the fact that women tend to live longer than men and as dementia becomes more common as we grow older, there are more women to develop the condition. Some studies are underway investigating whether men and women may have different risk factors for the condition.

Why isn't there screening for dementia?

At the moment, screening the general population for dementia is not recommended. This is mainly because there is no simple and accurate way to identify people with early dementia. In addition, there is not yet enough evidence to suggest that screening people who don’t have concerns about their memory is beneficial in the long term. Research is ongoing in this area.

How can I reduce my risk of developing dementia?

There is no sure way to prevent dementia, but we do know some of the risk factors for dementia and these can be changed. These risk factors are the same as for cardiovascular disease (like heart disease and stroke). By leading a healthy lifestyle and taking regular exercise you will be lowering your risk of these diseases and it’s likely you will lower your risk of dementia too. Studies suggest it may be particularly important to keep healthy in mid-life to help lower your risk of dementia.

To keep healthy:

  • don’t smoke
  • keep active and exercise regularly
  • maintain a healthy weight
  • eat a healthy balanced diet
  • only drink alcohol within recommended limits
  • control high blood pressure
  • keep cholesterol at a healthy level.