Health care - Learning about dementia - Understanding Alzheimer's disease and other related dementias

Dementia is a progressive decline in cognitive function due to damage or disease in the brain beyond what might be expected from normal aging. There is a lot to learn about dementia. But both you and your care partners can take steps each day to make it more manageable together. Some of the most important things to note are that the changes you experience are because of dementia. You will have good and bad days. Everyone with dementia is affected differently, so be open to new ideas so you can find what works for you. You are not alone. There are many people going through the same situation, but there are also many people available to help you.

Frequently asked questions

I have been told I have dementia. What does that mean? Click for answer

Dementia is not a disease in and of itself, but a set of symptoms or a syndrome. The brain cells change and changes usually cause problems with:

  • memory
  • communication (finding and using words correctly as well as understanding what you are being told)
  • thinking
  • judgment
  • reasoning
  • mood
  • behaviour (such as irritability and depression)
  • coping (blame may be placed on others)
  • caring for oneself (less showering, forgetting to brush teeth, comb hair, etc.)
  • understanding the world (disorientation to place and time)

There are many forms of dementia - Alzheimer's disease is the most common form to date.

How many people are affected by Alzheimer's disease? Click for answer

Over 600,000 people are living with dementia in Canada. Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia, accounts for 60 to 80% of all diagnoses. Alzheimer's disease is also more common in females than males.

Source: Navigating the Path Forward for Dementia in Canada: The Landmark Study Report, Alzheimer Society of Canada. (2022). Alzheimer's disease: Causes of Alzheimer's disease. Retrieved November 23, 2011.

What is Alzheimer's disease? Click for answer

Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia and it can eventually affect most areas of the brain. Alzheimer's disease usually begins with short-term memory loss. People affected by Alzheimer's disease need to be reminded about things several times, or they may ask the same question several times, or they may forget important day-to-day things, like taking their medications or paying bills. Having trouble finding your way in familiar places can also happen early on. Eventually, Alzheimer's disease affects your thinking and problem-solving ability, your language, and your ability to perform everyday tasks and activities. Alzheimer's disease can also affect your mood and behavior, and this can occur at any time.

What are the other types of dementia? Click for answer

Other types of dementia include:

  • Vascular dementia
  • Lewy Body dementia and Parkinson's Disease dementia
  • Frontotemporal dementia
  • Mixed dementia (usually vascular dementia and Alzheimer's disease)
  • Huntington's Disease
  • Alcohol related dementia
  • Head injury; acquired brain injury
  • Benign brain tumor or hydrocephalus (fluid buildup on brain)
  • AIDS related dementia

Source: The information above comes from Alzheimer Society of Peel. (n.d.). Your guidelines to "a journey through care". Mississauga, Canada: Alzheimer Society of Peel.

What is vascular dementia? Click for answer

This is a broad term for dementia associated with problems of blood circulation (oxygen) to the brain. Pure vascular dementia is rare; it is more common to see a mixed dementia (Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia). When blood is not circulating to the brain to provide oxygen, the cells in the brain die. Strokes are a common cause of vascular dementia. This dementia usually has a sudden onset. Transient Ichemic Attacks (TIAs) are warning signs of a possible stroke and warrant urgent medical attention to prevent a stroke and thus preserve cognitive function. Vascular dementia is slightly more common in men than women.

Source: The information above comes from Alzheimer Society of Canada. (2003, July). Related dementia – vascular dementia. Toronto, Canada: Alzheimer Society of Canada.

What is Lewy Body dementia? Click for answer

The name comes from abnormal structures called Lewy bodies. These bodies are said to cause death of the nerve cells. Some features of this dementia resemble Parkinson's disease. Muscle stiffness, hallucinations, fluctuations in symptoms, and stooped posture are all signs of Lewy Body dementia. This dementia is more common in men than women.

People with Parkinson's disease can also develop symptoms that can be similar to those of Lewy Body dementia, but less severe.

Source: The information was compiled with permission from Australian Government. (2006). Living with dementia. A booklet for people with dementia. Canberra, Australia: Commonwealth of Australia and Alzheimer Society of Canada. (2003, July). Related dementia – Lewy body dementia. Toronto, Canada: Alzheimer Society of Canada.

What is frontotemporal dementia? Click for answer

This type of dementia primarily affects the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain, which are the areas associated with personality and behaviour. The brain cells in these areas shrink or die. A person with this dementia may have difficulty with personality changes, major behavioural problems, difficulties planning and organizing, or with producing or understanding speech. They usually have an intact memory in the early to mid-stages of the disease. This dementia occurs at an earlier age than Alzheimer's disease and can affect both men and women.

Source: The information above comes from Alzheimer Society of Canada. (2007, August). Related dementia – frontotemporal dementia. Toronto, Canada: Alzheimer Society of Canada.

What does the latest research tell us about dementia? Click for answer

How can I become involved in research? Click for answer

Helpful links and resources

Alzheimer Society of Canada - Research
Highlights key research in Alzheimer's disease and other dementias, including research funded by the Alzheimer Society Research Program

Alzheimer Society Research Portal 
Connects researchers with Canadians looking to participate in studies 

Canadian Institutes of Health Research Dementia Research Strategy
Provides information on the CIHR dementia research strategy, funding and resources.
A database of privately and publicly funded clinical studies conducted around the world

Consortium of Canadian Centres for Clinical Cognitive Research (C5R) website
A non-profit consortium of researchers committed to the pursuit of dementia research. Also provides a list of current research studies and opportunities to participate.

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