Dementia and Alzheimer's

Dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia and is a specific disease while dementia is not.

What are Dementia and Alzheimer’s?

Dementia is a syndrome – usually of a chronic or progressive nature – in which there is deterioration in cognitive function beyond what might be expected from normal ageing. It affects memory, thinking, orientation, comprehension, calculation, learning capacity, language, and judgment. Alzheimer’s is a degenerative brain disease that is caused by complex brain changes following cell damage. It leads to dementia symptoms that gradually worsen over time.

What is a risk factor?

A risk factor is something that affects your chance of developing dementia. A person's risk of developing a disease or condition is the chance that it will affect them over a certain period. For dementia, there is a mixture of factors – some that can be avoided and others that are impossible to control. However, having any of the risk factors does not mean a person will necessarily develop dementia in the future. Likewise, avoiding risk factors does not guarantee that a person will stay healthy, but it does make this more likely.

What risk factors cannot be controlled?

  1. Ageing – Above the age of 65, a person's risk of developing Alzheimer's disease or vascular dementia doubles roughly every 5 years. 
  2. Genetics – Inheriting certain versions (variants) of the gene apolipoprotein E (APOE) increases a person's risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. 
  3. Gender – Women are more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease than men. This is the case even if we allow for the fact that women on average live longer.
  4. Ethnicity – South Asian people seem to develop dementia – particularly vascular dementia – more often than white Europeans. South Asians are well known to be at a higher risk of stroke, heart disease, and diabetes, and this is thought to explain the higher dementia risk. Similarly, people of African or African-Caribbean origin seem to develop dementia more often. They are known to be more prone to diabetes and stroke.
A woman in the middle of a group is laughing and clapping.  | © Unsplash

Women are more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease than men. (Photo: Unsplash)

What are the modifiable risk factors?

Certain risk factors could be modified to help prevent or delay up to 40 percent of dementias. Dementia is rising more in low-income and middle-income countries than in high-income countries, because of population ageing and higher frequency of modifiable risk factors. The modifiable risk factors are listed below:

  1. Hearing Loss 
  2. Cognitive Inactivity
  3. Heavy Smoking & Alcohol Consumption
  4. Depression & Social Isolation 
  5. Hypertension
  6. Physical Inactivity & Obesity
  7. Diabetes