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Is dementia a normal part of aging?

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

No, dementia is not a normal part of aging. While your chances of developing the disorder do greatly increase with age, it's not an inevitable part of getting older. In fact, dementia only occurs in about half of people who live to the age of 100.

Dementia should be seen as a modifiable health condition and, if it occurs, should be followed as a medical condition, not a normal part of aging. In other words, if you or your loved one becomes forgetful, it could be related to medication, nutrition or modifiable medical issues. Don't assume Alzheimer's.

Just consider that when doctors examined the brain of a 115-year-old woman who, when she died, was the world's oldest woman, they found essentially normal brain tissue, with no evidence of Alzheimer's or other dementia-causing conditions. Testing in the years before she died showed no loss in brain function.

Not only is dementia not inevitable with age, but you actually have some control over whether or not you develop it.

Doctors are only now starting to understand the linkages between health in your 40s, 50s and 60s and cognitive function later in life. Studies find that many of the same risk factors that contribute to heart disease—high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity—may also contribute to Alzheimer's and other dementias.

For instance, studies on the brains of elderly people with and without dementia find significant blood vessel damage in those with hypertension. Such damage shrinks the amount of healthy brain tissue you have in reserve, reducing the amount available if a disease like Alzheimer's hits. That's important because we're starting to understand that the more brain function you have to begin with, the more you can afford to lose before your core functions are affected.

Dementia mostly affects older people, but it’s not a normal part of aging. It can sometimes happen to young people too. While some people with Alzheimer’s disease have a close relative with dementia, usually there is no family history or link.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.