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Alzheimer’s Disease

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Many of us look forward to our retirement and see our later years as a chance to reflect and enjoy the lives we built for ourselves. But for hundreds of thousands of Canadians, this time of reflection becomes a time of loss and confusion. Memories disappear—eventually, people living with Alzheimer’s disease may not be able to remember their own names. Some memory loss is a normal part of aging, but when memory loss and confusion impact your day-to-day life, it might be a sign of Alzheimer’s disease.

What is it?

Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia. Dementia is a syndrome or group of symptoms. Dementia itself isn’t a disease—it refers to symptoms that can be caused by many different diseases or changes in your body. Alzheimer’s disease is one of the diseases that cause dementia. Dementia affects how you learn new information, how you remember information, how you think and other symptoms. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, and it accounts for about two-thirds of all dementias. Dementias that look similar to Alzheimer’s disease are called “related dementias.” You can learn more about related dementias in the sidebar “What are related dementias?”

Alzheimer’s disease causes the structure of your brain to change. These changes affect the way your brain works. As a result, it affects the way you think, remember, act and feel. It also affects the way you communicate with others and the way you move your body.

Alzheimer’s disease generally starts slowly. In the early stages, you may notice that you have a hard time remembering information you’ve learned recently. As it progresses, you might:

Alzheimer’s disease can also affect the way you express your emotions, the way you communicate and the way you behave. It can also make it difficult to move parts of your body, even when nothing else is wrong.

Researchers aren’t sure why some people develop Alzheimer’s disease. Some researchers suggest that you develop the disease when risk factors like your age, genes, environment and lifestyle overwhelm your brain’s ability to repair itself.


Who does it affect?

About half a million Canadians live with Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia. It may be more likely to affect the follow groups of people:


Could I have Alzheimer’s disease?

Remember that it’s normal to occasionally forget where you put your keys. With Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia, you might forget what keys are for or how to use them. If you notice that some of the signs above are affecting your daily life, talk to your doctor.


What can I do about it?

If you suspect that you might have Alzheimer’s disease, or if you suspect that a loved one might have it, it’s best to talk to your doctor. Symptoms like memory and concentration problems can be caused by depression and other health problems. A few examples include thyroid problems, a lack of certain vitamins, problems with medications, head injuries and substance use. That’s why it’s important to talk to your doctor about the symptoms you’ve noticed. Your doctor can see if there are other problems causing or masking the symptoms and help you find a treatment plan that works for you.

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but there are treatments that lessen symptoms or slow the progress of the disease. There are also things you can do to help cope with troubling symptoms and improve the quality of your life.

Tips for families and loved ones

Alzheimer’s disease can have a profound impact on the entire family. Here are some tips for family members and loved ones:


When you talk about Alzheimer’s disease, you might hear people refer to Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. Related dementias include vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, frontotemporal lobe dementia and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. We call these “related dementias” because their symptoms are similar to the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias are also grouped together because they’re all caused by changes in the brain that can’t be stopped.

For more information on these related dementias, contact the Alzheimer Society of BC or talk to your doctor.


Where do I go from here?

There are a number of resources available in BC for people living with Alzheimer’s disease and their loved ones:

Alzheimer Society of BC
Visit or call the Dementia Helpline at 604-681-8651 (in Greater Vancouver) or 1-800-936-6033 (toll-free in BC) for more information and helpful tip sheets about Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia. The Alzheimer Society offers support groups and education sessions across the province for people living with dementia and their families.

BC Partners for Mental Health and Addictions Information
Visit for more information about mental health problems. Here you can also find our Family Toolkit. The Toolkit is full of information, tips and self-tests to help you support a family member with a mental illness.

Your Local Crisis Line
Crisis lines aren’t only for people in crisis. You can call for information on local services or if you just need someone to talk to. If you are in distress, call 310-6789 (do not add 604, 778 or 250 before the number) 24 hours a day to connect to a BC crisis line, without a wait or busy signal. The crisis lines linked in through 310-6789 have received advanced training in mental health issues and services by members of the BC Partners for Mental Health and Addictions Information.

Resources available in many languages:
*For each service below, if English is not your first language, say the name of your preferred language in English to be connected to an interpreter. More than 100 languages are available.

HealthLink BC
Call 811 or visit to access free, non-emergency health information for anyone in your family, including information about Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia. Through 811, you can also speak to a registered nurse about symptoms you’re worried about, or talk with a pharmacist about medication questions.

Dementia Helpline
Call 604-681-8651 (in Greater Vancouver) or 1-800-936-6033 (toll-free in BC) for information about Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. The Helpline is open Monday to Friday from 9am to 4pm.

© 2014

This info sheet was prepared by CMHA BC Division on behalf of the BC Partners for Mental Health and Addictions Information and HeretoHelp. Funding was provided by BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services, an agency of the Provincial Health Services Authority. For more resources visit (PDF)

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