What is dementia?
The term "dementia" doesn't actually refer to one, specific disease. Rather, it's an overall term for a set of symptoms that are caused by disorders affecting the brain.
Looking for a quick summary of dementia you can print and share? Read our downloadable, one-page document: What is dementia? (PDF). Also available in other languages.
Dementia is not a normal part of aging
Almost 40% of people over the age of 65 experience some form of memory loss. When there is no underlying medical condition causing this memory loss, it is known as age-associated memory impairment.
Age-associated memory impairment is part of the natural process of aging. For most people, memory generally remains strong as they get older, and doesn't decline rapidly or substantively.
However, brain diseases like Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias are different.
Dementia doesn't just affect older people
The idea that dementia is an "old person's disease" is not just stigmatizing, it's also a myth.
While most people living with dementia are over the age of 65, a small number of people in their 40s and 50s can and do develop dementia. This is known as young onset dementia.
Dementia causes more than memory loss
Symptoms of dementia include:
- Memory loss, both short-term and long-term,
- Difficulties with thinking, problem-solving or language that are severe enough to reduce a person's ability to perform everyday activities, and
- Changes in mood or behaviour.
Dementia is usually progressive
As more brain cells become damaged and eventually die, the symptoms of most dementia types will gradually get worse. That's why it's important to be diagnosed as early as possible.
Learn more about the different stages of Alzheimer's disease, which is progressive and is the most common type of dementia.
Dementia does not always imply Alzheimer's disease
While Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia, there are other types, such as:
- Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease,
- Dementia with Lewy bodies,
- Frontotemporal dementia,
- Mixed dementia, and
- Vascular dementia, the second most common type.
These conditions can have similar and overlapping symptoms.
Know the difference between Alzheimer's disease and dementia.
People living with dementia are still people
Because of the effects of dementia, a person’s ability to communicate may become impaired, making it difficult to talk with them. But this doesn't meant they should be ignored.
It's important to try to reach the person in whichever way you can – and there are many ways to do so. While the effects may not be immediately obvious, your efforts can improve their quality of life and help the person living with dementia feel more comfortable and secure.
Know that all persons with dementia have the right to be treated with respect.
Dementia is becoming more common in Canada – and more expensive
With over half a million Canadians living with Alzheimer's disease or another form of dementia, chances are you know someone living with dementia. As our population ages, this number will nearly double by 2030.
Total health-care system costs and the out of pocket costs of caring for people living with dementia are at least $10.4 billion a year in Canada. Unless we do something now, dementia will become an even more serious impact on our healthcare system.
What causes most dementias is unknown...for now
While we know that neurodegenerative diseases, vascular diseases, head injuries and other risk factors can increase the chance of dementia, we still don't know what exactly causes most dementias.
However, researchers around the world are working hard to unravel the mysteries of this condition, and find not just causes, but better treatments and a cure as well.
Find out what the current research is telling us about dementia.
Didn't find what you were looking for? Get more answers to common questions about dementia. Or contact us with your questions at [email protected].
More useful links and resources
What is dementia? Alzheimer Society of Canada, 2020. This one-page document will introduce you to the basic facts around dementia, including the differences between dementia and normal aging, the importance of early diagnosis and what to do if you’re concerned that you or someone you know has dementia.
Also available in other languages
- Français (French): Que sont les troubles neurocognitifs?
- हिंदी (Hindi): डिमेंशिया क्या होता है?
- ਪੰਜਾਬੀ (Punjabi): ਡਿਮੇਨਸ਼ਿਆ ਕੀ ਹੈ?
- 繁體中文 (Traditional Chinese): 什麼是腦退化症？
- 简体中文 (Simplified Chinese): 什么是脑退化症？
- Español (Spanish): ¿Qué es la demencia?
- Português (Portuguese): O que é demência?
Indigenous views on dementia
Dementia. Native Women’s Association of Canada, 2020. In addition to providing basic information on dementia, this one-page, downloadable factsheet includes a brief summary of Indigenous views on dementia.