What you need to know about Alzheimer disease

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Anthony Levinson talks Alzheimer disease symptoms, effects and signs to watch for.

Did you know Alzheimer disease is the most common cause of dementia?

Dementia affects over 500,000 people in Canada, with about 25,000 people being diagnosed every year.

“Dementia” is a catch-all term for describing specific symptoms caused by disorders of the brain that impact day-to-day function, explains Anthony Levinson, psychiatrist and professor in the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioural Neurosciences.

Many different diseases can cause dementia, but Alzheimer disease is the most common: accounting for approximately 60 to 70 per cent of cases, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) says.

“Alzheimer is a progressive brain disease that affects many different functions of the brain,” says Levinson. “Including learning and memory, visual and spatial abilities and executive functioning – how we plan and multitask.”

Some changes in our thinking and brain function are a normal part of aging, explains Levinson, as most people have mild age-related cognitive changes. These changes become worrisome only if they progress to the point where it starts affecting daily life.

Common symptoms to be mindful of include difficulties following directions or getting lost in familiar places, behaving in uncharacteristic or inappropriate ways, becoming more forgetful or having consistent issues with memory or language, Levinson says.

These are all signals that there are changes in the brain happening. It is important to share these symptoms with a health care professional during a comprehensive assessment, he advises.

“There can be many different medical causes of brain changes and it’s important to assess for those and rule those out before making a diagnosis of a dementia, like Alzheimer disease,” he says.

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