Dementia is an umbrella term that includes a lot of different types of dementia including Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, Lewy Body dementia, and frontotemporal dementia. It is also possible to have mixed dementia, which means you have more than one type. The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, which accounts for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases, followed by vascular dementia. Vascular dementia occurs because of issues relating to your blood vessels. This can include strokes, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and bleeds in the brain.
Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks. Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are very serious and troubling illnesses. Family and friends of those with these illnesses often struggle in caring for them and choosing between treatment options.
The most common risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease is age. The number of American Indian and Alaska Natives 85 years of age and older is projected to increase from 42,000 in 2012 to 300,000 in 2050 — a more than sevenfold increase, according to a study by AARP. This means there will be many more Native elders with Alzheimer’s disease in the future. Studies show that one out of three American Indians and Alaska Natives over the age of 65 are at risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.
A 2016 study was the first to examine rates of dementia in American Indian and Alaska Native populations. In this study, the frequency of the disease was highest in Native people as well as African Americans. For many years American Indian and Alaska Native elders’ life expectancy was much lower than the majority population. In the 1940s their life expectancy was 51 years of age; Native people were dying before they would ever develop dementia. This may be a reason that Native communities had not heard or experienced Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias until recently. Native people born today have a life expectancy that is five and a half years less than the rest of the U.S. population (73.0 years to 78.5 years, respectively).
Low numbers of Alzheimer’s and dementia diagnoses may also be rooted in past poor experiences between Native communities and non-Native researchers and health care providers. Additionally, many Native communities lack services to care for and support the needs of individuals with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Family members may forgo seeking services because of transportation, health insurance, or other financial issues.
When Mary Angie started to forget more often, Yvette and her family had to make difficult decisions to best support her. Now she lives in assisted living and gets help with all her care. Hear their story of dementia and staying healthy.
Walt and Thelma knew something was wrong when Walt couldn’t remember. Everyday Thelma and their nieces cared for him. Hear how they found joy and laughter where they could.
While advanced aging is considered the greatest known risk factor, Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of aging. Hereditary factors, such as family history, can also indicate risk. Studies also suggest that people with less education are at higher risk for developing Alzheimer’s or other dementia, as are people who have had moderate or severe traumatic brain injuries.
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disease, where dementia symptoms gradually worsen over the years. In its early stages, memory loss is mild, but with late-stage Alzheimer’s, individuals lose the ability to carry on a conversation and respond to their environment.
Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. Among elders, it ranks third, behind heart disease and cancer. The National Institute on Aging estimates that more than 5 million Americans currently have Alzheimer’s disease. This number is expected to nearly triple by 2050.
Those with Alzheimer’s disease live an average of eight years after their symptoms become noticeable to others, but survival can range from four to 20 years, depending on age and other health conditions. Alzheimer’s has no current cure, but treatments for symptoms are available and research continues.
Although current Alzheimer’s treatments cannot stop Alzheimer’s from progressing, they can temporarily slow the worsening of dementia symptoms and improve quality of life for those with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers. Today, there is a worldwide effort under way to find better ways to treat the disease, delay its onset, and prevent it from developing.
What Cognitive Changes Are Normal as We Age?
- It is normal to forget names more frequently.
- It is normal to have more difficulty doing more than one thing at a time (multi-tasking), and to become a little more flustered or confused when doing too many things at once.
- It is normal to need more time and energy to learn new information.
- It is normal (and often frustrating) to have more difficulty recalling information exactly when it is needed (e.g. while having a conversation). Often this information is recalled much later, like in the middle of the night.
First Signs of a Memory Problem (Before Dementia Develops)
- More trouble remembering appointments and events.
- May get confused a little more often than usual.
- May feel overwhelmed or stressed more often than usual, even though there’s no obvious reason for this change at home or at work.
- May feel that “something is not right” even though others fail to notice a change.
- Mood may appear to be mildly different than what it used to be.
- Other than these symptoms, which all appear to be mild, there are no other obvious problems with thinking or ability to carry out everyday tasks.
Watch a short film on Alzheimer’s disease, research, and dementia prevention for American Indians in rural and urban areas. The effort is a collaboration between Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center and Partnerships for Native Health at Washington State University. The film was created by Sky Bear Media, an Olympia-based Native American-owned company.
Check out these interviews with American Indians about their experiences as caregivers for family members and friends suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease
- Forgets events that occurred in the last few minutes, hours or days.
- Repeats parts of conversations with no recognition that the information was repeated.
- Loss of interest in hobbies and other activities.
- Feels confused on a regular basis (i.e., daily or weekly).
- Difficulty managing everyday tasks such as cooking, gardening or other hobbies and finances.
- Memory and other thinking abilities decline to a point where the change is noticed by others.
Why get diagnosed if there’s no cure?
Research is still being done on biomarkers and other tests that can be helpful to diagnose memory disorders even before someone has symptoms of memory loss. It is important to get an accurate diagnosis as early as you can.
Early detection of memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease is important for prevention. If the family waits until the symptoms are more severe and more noticeable to others before seeking help, it may be too late to slow or prevent the disease. Early detection of memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease is important to ensure that the family is adequately prepared to handle the challenges ahead and has ready access to appropriate support resources.
While there is not a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, there is hope in care and dementia prepared systems. This 3-minute sketch video provides a quick overview of dementia in the U.S. It is supported by the CDC’s Alzheimer’s Disease and Healthy Aging Program.