What is Dementia?

Dementia is a general term for the impaired ability to remember, think, or make decisions that interfere with everyday activities. Alzheimer disease is the most common type of dementia. Even though dementia mostly affects older adults, it is not a part of normal aging.

Visible Characteristics

Dementia is a chronic condition that gets more severe over time

Visible decline in:





Changes in mood and behaviour:

acting out of character when faced with decision-making

increased irritability

difficulties with emotional regulation and social cues

Possible physical changes in later stage may include:

coordination difficulties

loss of bladder and bowel control

weak and stiff muscles

trouble standing, sitting or walking

There are many changes in the brain that occur with dementia, with researchers having identified the following:

  • abnormal proteins in the brain

  • reduced blood supply to the brain

  • nerve cells in the brain that stop working properly

What are the most common types of dementia?

Alzheimer disease

Alzheimer disease is the most common form of dementia and may contribute to 60-70% of cases. Early signs of Alzheimer disease include minor memory issues, such as forgetting new information and having difficulty completing familiar tasks.

Vascular dementia

Vascular dementia is associated with problems with blood flow to the brain, which damages brain cells. Causes for vascular dementia may include: stroke, brain aneurysm, narrowed blood vessels, and other cerebrovascular conditions.


FTD affects the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. Damage to nerve cells in these areas can limit interactions with other parts of the brain. This type of dementia most often affects the following: behaviour, personality, movement, communication and language.

Lewy body

Lewy body dementia (LBD) is a neurodegenerative disease associated with abnormal proteins in the brain, also observed in Alzheimer and Parkinson's. Examples of LBD symptoms are: tremors, lack of balance, hallucinations and slow movements.

It is common for individuals to have markers of more than one type of dementia, known as mixed dementia. The most common mix is Alzheimer disease and vascular dementia.

There's currently no cure for dementia although...

Some treatments may help to ease symptoms and can help improve quality of life. The condition is not contagious.

About 2-8% of all people living with dementia in Canada are younger than age 65. This is known as young onset dementia. Since dementia is less common before age 65, it often goes unnoticed or undiagnosed. Living with young onset dementia comes with unique challenges because the person may be more likely to be:

  • raising a family
  • working full-time
  • caring for aging parents
  • seemingly fit and healthy
  • carrying financial responsibilities

Each person experiences dementia and its impacts on daily life differently. One may still be able to remain active and engaged in  work, home life and other responsibilities in early stages after the diagnosis.

Recent statistics from 2020 illustrate approximately 597,000 people in Canada are living with dementia, roughly 60% being women. This number is said to grow to 955,900 by the year 2030. The annual estimated cost of dementia for the Canadian economy and its healthcare system is $10.4 billion.

Untitled design
Dementia Infographic
Canadians with Dementia in 2020
Canadians with Dementia by 2030
$B Annually
Cost to Canadian Health Care

What increases the risk of dementia?

There are two kinds of risk factors for dementia: non-modifiable and modifiable.

Non-modifiable risk factors are ones that cannot be changed or eliminated, like aging, family history and genetics. Most cases of dementia aren’t related to genetics or inherited. But it is true that when there is a first degree relative affected, the risk of dementia is higher than if not.  In less than 10% of cases genes are identified and this is an expanding area of research.


Increasing age is the biggest risk factor for dementia. The likelihood of being diagnosed with dementia is more than six times higher in people aged 80 and over compared to those aged 65-79. Not everyone develops the condition as they age.

Modifiable dementia risk factors are ones you can control by taking action such as:

  • staying active
  • avoiding smoking
  • limiting alcohol consumption
  • wearing a helmet when you bike or ski
  • managing chronic health conditions, such as: diabetes and high blood pressure

Changes in the brain that may lead to dementia can begin decades before signs or symptoms appear. It is never too early or too late to take action that can benefit your brain health.



  1. What is dementia? (2019) Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/aging/dementia/index.html 
  2. Government of Canada (2022) Dementia: Overview, Canada.ca. Government of Canada. Available at: www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/dementia
  3. Alzheimer Society Canada (2022) Navigating the path forward for dementia in Canada: The Landmark Study Report #1, Alzheimer Society of Canada. Available at: https://alzheimer.ca/en/research/reports-dementia/landmark-study-report-1-path-forward
  4. Alzheimer Society Canada (2016) Prevalence and monetary costs of dementia in Canada, Prevalence and Monetary costs of Dementia in Canada. Available at: https://alzheimer.ca/sites/default/files/documents/Prevalence-and-costs-of-dementia-in-Canada_Alzheimer-Society-Canada.pdf
  5. Alzheimer Society Canada (2021) Normal Aging versus dementia, Normal Aging Versus dementia. Alzheimer Society Canada. Available at: https://alzheimer.mb.ca/about-dementia/concerned/normal-aging-versus-dementia/ 
  6. Government of Canada (2022) Dementia: Risk factors and prevention, Canada.ca. Government of Canada . Available at: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/dementia/risk-factors-prevention.html
  7. Government of Canada (2022) Types of Dementia , Dementia Overview. Government of Canada. Available at: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/dementia.html#a3 
  8. Government of Canada (2022) Dementia: Symptoms and treatment, Treatment . Government of Canada. Available at: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/dementia/symptoms-treatment.html