The brain is a mysterious and fascinating organ that inspires all sorts of questions. Here are four common ones.
1. What’s the difference between Alzheimer’s disease and dementia?
Dementia is not a single disease, but rather a syndrome encompassing a range of conditions. It is characterized by a deterioration in the ability to remember, think, and carry out day-to-day activities, as well as by changes in behaviour. Dementia is also known as major neurocognitive disorder.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. It is characterized by abnormal accumulations of tau protein and amyloid plaques in the brain. These changes gradually lead to brain cell (neuron) dysfunction and cognitive problems.
Dementia can also be caused by other diseases. Examples include vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, frontotemporal dementia, and Huntington’s disease.
2. Is dementia part of the normal aging process?
No. Dementia is not a normal part of aging.
Rest assured that things like missing an appointment, losing your keys, or forgetting someone’s name are bound to happen now and as you get older. In fact, they can happen at any age! These little slips are nothing to worry about and will not prevent you from living your life.
3. What’s the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease if one of your parents has it?
There are two types of Alzheimer’s disease: familial and sporadic.
The familial form is very rare (less than 5% of cases). Affected individuals typically develop symptoms before age 65, sometimes as early as in their 40s. This type of Alzheimer’s is hereditary and associated with certain “defective” genes. If a parent has any of the faulty genes, their children have a 50% chance of inheriting it and developing the disease.
The sporadic form is more common and usually occurs after the age of 65. Having one or more cases of sporadic Alzheimer’s in your family doesn’t automatically mean you will get the disease; however, depending on your family history, you may be at greater risk of developing it. What causes the disease is not yet well understood, but scientists believe it may be due to a complex combination of our genes, environment, and lifestyle.
Today, we know that it’s possible to improve our chances of maintaining healthy brain function by adopting healthy lifestyle habits such as eating well, exercising regularly, and seeking out intellectual stimulation. In fact, recent studies suggest that up to 40% of Alzheimer’s cases are attributable to lifestyle.
4. What causes vascular dementia? How can it be prevented?
Vascular dementia develops when blood flow to the brain is reduced or blocked, for example, following one or more strokes. The interrupted blood flow decreases the brain’s supply of oxygen and nutrients, resulting in damage to the neurons and, eventually, cognitive symptoms.
Here again, studies show that you can lower your risk of vascular dementia by making certain lifestyle changes, including the following:
- Quitting smoking
- Managing certain health problems, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or high cholesterol, by following doctor-prescribed treatment
- Maintaining a healthy diet
- Being physically active
- Managing stress