Helen Green talks through some of the key questions she receives on our Admiral Nurse Dementia Helpline around Alzheimer’s, which is still the most common subtype of dementia but still so widely misunderstood.
What is the difference between Alzheimer’s disease and dementia?
The short answer is there is no difference. Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia and so in essence they are the same thing. Alzheimer’s differs slightly from other forms of dementia in the way it can affect the function and structure of the brain in all areasdue to shrinkage, decreased chemical exchanges and the build-up of proteins.
What is the test for Alzheimer’s?
Currently there is no specific test which can accurately and definitively diagnose Alzheimer’s disease. When assessing the likelihood that someone has a diagnosis of dementia of any form, health professionals rely on a variety of assessment tools to form an overall picture. This is comparable to creating a large jigsaw puzzle from smaller pieces. An assessment is based on the progression of symptoms, cognitive functioning tests, physical health screens and a reliable history from the person or a family member. Occasionally further testing in the form of a CT or MRI scan is conducted.
People can get more information in the Dementia UK resource on getting a diagnosis here.
Does it affect men and women differently?
It is estimated that there are twice as many women as men affected by Alzheimer’s disease and the rate at which the illness progresses tends to be faster in females. It is known that females tend to live longer than males and that age is a risk factor for dementia. It is also suspected that the female hormone, oestrogen, may be a factor but the reasons why remain unclear.
Research suggests that other risk factors such as heart problems and depression are more prevalent in females and so increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. However at this time there is insufficient evidence to provide a clear answer.
Is Alzheimer’s disease genetic?
In general terms the answer is no. When there is a high prevalence of dementia in a family it tends to be down to similar lifestyle choices or other physical health issues that increase the risk. There are however some exceptionally rare forms of Alzheimer’s disease where there is a direct genetic link and affects people under the age of 60.
How long does someone live for when they have Alzheimer’s disease?
There is no way of predicting life expectancy for someone who is living with this condition due to the varying factors that affect the progression of dementia. Each person’s experience of living with dementia is unique.
Learn more about Alzheimer's disease
For more information around Alzheimer’s, please visit our page below