Frequently Asked Questions

What are the early symptoms of dementia?

Every person is unique and dementia affects people differently - no two people will have symptoms that develop in exactly the same way. An individual's personality, general health and social situation are all important factors in determining the impact of dementia on him or her.

Symptoms vary between Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia, but there are broad similarities between them all. The most common signs are memory loss and the loss of practical abilities, which can lead to withdrawal from work or social activities. If you think that these problems are affecting your daily life, or the life of someone you know, you should talk to your doctor.

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My mother has Alzheimer's disease. Will I get it?

There are a few very rare cases where Alzheimer's disease does run in families. In these cases there is a direct link between an inherited mutation in one gene and the onset of the disease. These tend to be cases of 'early onset' Alzheimer's disease, which affects those under the age of 65. In these cases, the probability that close family members (brothers, sisters and children) will develop Alzheimer's disease is one in two.

Most cases of Alzheimer's disease are not of the type that is passed on directly in this way. If a family member has a normal form of Alzheimer's disease, the risk to close relatives is around three times higher than the risk for a person of a similar age who has no family history of the disease. It is thought that in these cases a person's genes may contribute to the development of the disease but do not cause it directly.

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Is there a cure?

There is currently no cure for Alzheimer's disease or for most other causes of dementia. Nor can a cure be expected in the near future. Researchers are still at the stage of developing drugs that will slow down the progression of the disease, at least in some cases. They still do not know how to prevent the disease from occurring, how to stop its progression, or how to reverse its effects. It is hoped that more research into the causes of dementia will make effective treatment possible.

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Are there any drug treatments for Alzheimer's disease?

Although there are no drugs that can cure Alzheimer's disease, there are a number of drug treatments that can help some people with Alzheimer's disease.

The currently available treatments can slow down the progression of the disease in some cases for periods between 6 and 18 months. The main class of such compounds is the cholinesterase inhibitors.

Other kinds of drugs are occasionally useful for controlling some of the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, such as sleeplessness and agitation. In general, however, the use of drugs such as sleeping pills or tranquillisers should be kept to a minimum if someone has Alzheimer's disease, as they can cause increased confusion.

Non-drug treatments, including practical and emotional support, are important and effective in helping people with dementia and carers.

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What can I do? Where can I find help? Is there an Alzheimer association in my country?

You are not alone. Many people and organisations, both professional and voluntary, can help. Do not be afraid to ask.

Alzheimer associations offer help and support to people with dementia and their carers. We have a list of Alzheimer associations around the world. Contact the Alzheimer association in your country, or if there is no association in your country, you can try contacting one in a neighbouring country. Many associations have telephone helplines, as well as branches or chapters throughout the country. Local groups will know about services in your area. Alzheimer associations will also be able to put you in touch with other carers who will understand your worries and problems and will be able to help you.

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Can Alzheimer's disease be prevented?

Not enough is known about the causes of Alzheimer's disease for us to recommend anything that will prevent it.

Although Alzheimer's disease is more common with increasing age, the trigger for the characteristic changes that occur in the brain tissue of people with Alzheimer's disease is not known.

Genes may play a part in the development of most cases of Alzheimer's disease. In rare cases, abnormal genes actually cause the disease. Much more commonly, genes are believed only to contribute to a person's susceptibility to the disease. At least in some cases, factors in the environment may be necessary to trigger the illness.

Although there are no specific preventative measures to recommend, what can be recommended is a healthy lifestyle - eating a balanced diet, staying physically, mentally and socially active, not smoking and not drinking too much alcohol. There is increasing research evidence to suggest that having a healthy lifestyle helps to reduce an individual's risk.

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How many people have dementia?

The world's population is ageing. As of 2015, there are over 46 million people worldwide with dementia, 58% of them live in low and middle income countries. This figure is set to increase to more than 131 million people by 2050. Much of this increase will be in rapidly developing and heavily populated regions such as China, India and Latin America.

Dementia primarily affects older people. Up to the age of 65, dementia develops in only about 1 person in 1000. The chance of having the condition rises sharply with age to 1 person in 20 over the age of 65. Over the age of 80, this figure increases to 1 person in 5.