What’s the difference between Alzheimer’s disease and dementia?
Alzheimer’s disease is the name of the disease that involves the build-up of proteins in the brain, causing the cells in the brain to die. This results in symptoms such as memory loss, problems with thinking ability, communication problems, and changes in mood. This collection of symptoms is known as dementia.
Dementia can be caused by a number of conditions, such as vascular dementia (where a stroke or series of mini-strokes causes damage to the brain), dementia with Lewy Bodies, or Frontotemporal dementia. When two or more of these diseases are present together, it is known as mixed dementia. When the symptoms come on at an early age, it is known as early-onset or young-onset dementia.
How long do I have to live?
Everyone’s experience of Alzheimer’s is different and it’s difficult to predict how long someone with the condition will live. However, the age at which someone develops the disease makes a difference – someone in their 60s or early 70s will live about 7 to 10 years after their symptoms started, whereas someone in their 90s will live for about 3 years. If you were diagnosed a couple of years after symptoms started, this time span is likely to be shorter.
What will things be like in a year / two years’ time?
There’s no way to determine what things will look like for you in a year. Lots of factors can play a role – age, genetics, general health, levels of activity, and the existence of other health conditions. Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease – meaning it gets gradually worse over time – so it’s likely the symptoms will be more noticeable in a year’s time.
However, it all depends on you. It might be that, because of Alzheimer’s, you’re struggling with isolation, or you’re finding it difficult to get around the house. But over the course of the year, you might successfully make adaptations to your home to suit your needs, and you might find a new hobby or activity to get involved with that brings you into contact with other people. So this time next year, the underlying disease may be worse, but it’s also possible that you will be coping with it better and the overall picture will be improved.
Everyone struggling with dementia is on an individual journey, involving new challenges along the way and attempts to overcome them. There’s no telling how things will be in a year or two years’ time, so the best you can do is to focus on making life the best it can be at this moment in time.
Will my relatives also get dementia?
Firstly, there are many factors that can increase or decrease your risk of getting dementia. Having a close relative with dementia might slightly increase your chances of getting the condition, but it doesn’t necessarily make it certain that you’ll develop dementia. Other factors, such as your age, gender, diet, how much you exercise, and other medical conditions you might have, all affect your likelihood of developing dementia.
Secondly, it depends on what type of dementia you have. Scientists have identified genes in people with Alzheimer’s disease that double the chances of a relative getting the disease. But the overall effect might not be as dramatic as you think – if a family member’s risk of developing dementia after the age of 65 was, for example, 8%, it would mean your diagnosis brings their risk up to 16%.
To put this into perspective, gender is just as important as a risk factor as genetics for Alzheimer’s disease, because women are twice as likely to develop the disease as men.
Rare cases where an inherited gene directly causes dementia include Huntington’s disease and familial Alzheimer’s disease (a rare form of Alzheimer’s disease that begins before the age of 60).
Some types of Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD) run in families – it depends on whether the disease was caused by the mutation of a gene. It’s worth stressing that these are rare cases, and your relatives might be offered genetic testing if you were diagnosed with one of these conditions.
If you want to learn more about the genetics of different dementia-related conditions, the Alzheimer’s Society has produced a useful factsheet on the topic.
I have just heard about a miracle cure, can you tell me more?
You might have come across an article in the newspaper claiming that a new “breakthrough” drug has been found for dementia, or that an ordinary foodstuff, like coffee, has been discovered to have powerful preventative qualities.
It’s important to make sure you get a full picture about the study being referenced and what exactly it shows before drawing any conclusions. Often, newspapers will exaggerate the results of a study to create an eye-catching headline. Check out our guidance on choosing the right treatment for advice on how to read through the headlines and get the facts about what works.