One in 10 people age 65 and older (10 percent) has Alzheimer’s, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Alzheimer’s is far from the only type of dementia, but it is the most common, and the number of people affected by it is on the rise due to a growing senior population. Women and minorities are the most likely to develop the disease, and one in three seniors, the association states, dies with Alzheimer’s or another dementia.
It’s possible for a loved one to have dementia and not have Alzheimer’s because Alzheimer’s disease is just one form of dementia. Dementia itself is actually a symptom, not a disease. Other types of dementia include Lewy body dementia, vascular dementia, frontotemporal dementia, short-term memory loss and Huntington’s or Parkinson’s disease. For all forms of dementia, there is a decline in mental function.
Another common symptom of all forms of dementia is wandering, which can pose great safety risks. Other symptoms are specific to certain types of dementia, such as tremors and other motion function issues that people with Parkinson’s often develop as a result of the disease.
Alzheimer’s disease doesn’t progress at a predictable rate. For some people, the symptoms will develop slowly during the course of decades, while for others, the disease can seem to worsen rapidly in just a few years. According to the association, people with Alzheimer’s live four to eight years after diagnosis, but can live as long as 20 years, depending on other factors.
While Alzheimer’s stages aren’t crisply demarcated — and everyone’s experience with the disease’s progression will be unique — doctors have identified three main stages that most people with the disease experience.