1.8 million people in Germany suffer from dementia. Most suffer from the most common form of Alzheimer’s. You can read about case numbers, risk factors, warning signals – and which medications give hope in this overview piece.

Misplaced the key, forgot your name and where is my car again? Dementia begins gradually. However, if the symptoms increase, it is advisable to see a doctor. Here too, the earlier an illness is detected, the better. Although there is currently no cure for dementia, there are treatment options that slow down the progression. You can read the most important information here in the overview piece.

According to estimates, around 1.8 million people currently live with dementia in Germany. The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s dementia. It makes up around two thirds.

Age is considered the greatest risk factor for dementia. This is also shown by a look at the age structure: around 1.7 million people with dementia are 65 years of age or older. Women are affected significantly more often than men.

Due to the aging population, the number of those affected is increasing. If there is no breakthrough in prevention or therapy, according to current estimates, up to 2.8 million people in Germany could be ill by 2050.

In Alzheimer’s dementia, nerve cells in the brain gradually die. The exact cause of this brain deterioration is still not fully understood. What is certain, however, is that two protein deposits are characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease: beta-amyloid plaques and tau fibrils. These deposits massively disrupt the nerve cells and increasingly impair the functions of the brain.

In addition to age, there are a number of other factors that can increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. According to a study by “The Lancet,” the biggest risk factors are:

The risk factors for dementia that can be influenced include high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, air pollution, lack of education and limited hearing ability (hearing aid). A healthy lifestyle includes mental activity, sufficient exercise and sleep, social contacts and a balanced diet based on Mediterranean cuisine.

By taking measures to combat the above-mentioned risk factors and adopting a healthy lifestyle, 40 percent of all dementia could be avoided or at least delayed.

What do people in Germany get sick with? In a major focus area, FOCUS provides online information about the four major widespread diseases

We shed light on the medical background surrounding causes, symptoms, risk factors and treatment options. At the same time, we show you what you can do for each illness to minimize the risk.

In case histories, one affected person also reports on their life with cancer, heart disease, dementia or depression – moving, sometimes sad, but always encouraging.

(The articles appear successively on our site over the course of the week. The article slider is also updated with new content every day.)

It is not always easy to recognize dementia. The Alzheimer’s Research Initiative lists ten early signs and explains how they differ from normal age-related changes.

1. Memory lapses: Impairments in short-term memory that affect everyday life. For example, important appointments are forgotten, the stove is not turned off or everyday life is only organized with notes.

Normal age-related changes: Names or appointments are forgotten for a short time, but are remembered later.

2. Difficulty planning and problem solving: Those affected find it difficult to concentrate over a longer period of time or to plan and implement something in advance. You need more time for many things than before. Problems arise, for example, when cooking or baking according to familiar recipes, dealing with numbers or paying bills.

Normal age-related change: absent-mindedness when doing many things at the same time.

3. Problems with usual activities: Everyday activities are suddenly perceived as a major challenge. Routine tasks at work become a problem or the rules of a well-known game are forgotten.

Normal age-related changes: Occasional need for help in dealing with demanding everyday tasks, for example programming the television.

4. Spatial and temporal orientation problems: Locations or time distances can often no longer be classified. For example, those affected forget the year and season, can no longer read the clock or no longer know where they are on their street or how to get home.

Normal age-related change: Confusing the day of the week every now and then and remembering it later.

5. Perceptual disorders: Many affected people have great difficulty recognizing images and grasping spatial dimensions. Weaknesses can be seen, for example, in recognizing colors and contrasts, reading or recognizing familiar faces.

Normal age-related changes: Changed or reduced vision, for example due to clouding of the lens of the eye.

6. New language and writing difficulties: Many sufferers find it difficult to follow a conversation and take an active part in it. They lose the thread, use inappropriate filler words or have problems finding words. Frequent repetition can also be a sign.

Normal age-related changes: Every now and then you can’t think of the right word.

7. Misplacing objects: Those affected often leave things lying around or put them in unusual places. Not only do you forget where things are, but also what they are for. For example, shoes are put in the refrigerator or car keys are put in the mailbox.

Normal age-related changes: things are occasionally misplaced and then found again.

8. Impaired judgment: The ability to judge and make decisions often changes, for example when choosing clothes (winter boots in summer), dealing with money or personal hygiene.

Normal age-related changes: rash or wrong decisions.

9. Loss of initiative and withdrawal from social life: Many of those affected increasingly lose their initiative and pursue their hobbies, social or sporting activities less and less. They notice changes in themselves that unsettle them and withdraw.

Normal age-related changes: You sometimes feel overwhelmed by the demands of work, family or social obligations.

10. Changes in personality and behavior: Severe mood swings for no apparent reason can be a result of Alzheimer’s disease. Significant personality changes can also occur, for example severe discomfort in unfamiliar spaces, sudden distrust, aggressive behavior or feelings of helplessness, sadness and restlessness.

Normal age-related changes: Irritation when usual everyday routines are changed or interrupted.

Important: “If one or more of these signs occur repeatedly in you or a family member, you should have this checked by a doctor,” say the experts at the Alzheimer Research Initiative. “This means you can seek help early if it is actually early Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia.”

There is currently no cure for dementia. However, symptoms and side effects of the disease can be alleviated with medication. There are currently three types of active ingredients available as basic therapy, specifically anti-dementia drugs, antidepressants and neuroleptics. In addition, brain performance-promoting active ingredients such as Ginkgo biloba can be used.

So-called Alzheimer’s antibodies are currently giving hope. A drug has already been approved in the USA; A market launch is also expected soon in Germany. In a conversation with FOCUS online, Stephan Schilling from the Fraunhofer Institute for Cell Therapy and Immunology in Halle (Saale) explained that the antibodies are promising because they have a direct effect on known causes of Alzheimer’s-related brain deterioration. “The antibodies have been proven to bind to the beta-amyloid plaques and break them down.” However, he points out: “Here too, they are particularly effective in the early stages of the disease and can only slow down the progression and cannot stop it.”

According to the expert, a cure for Alzheimer’s is not possible. “If neurons die, they cannot be restored, at least according to the current state of technology.” According to Schilling, the big goal for a game-changer drug should therefore be to stop the decay completely. “So that Alzheimer’s patients maintain their cognitive status from the time they stop taking medication.”

And the expert gives hope: “I firmly believe that this can be achieved in ten to 15 years,” says Schilling. He assumes a combination therapy – i.e. the interaction of several medications. In addition to antibodies against amyloid plaques, antibodies against tau fibrils are currently being tested. “If I had to make a bet, I would bet on a combination therapy – with active ingredients against amyloid plaques and tau fibrils and perhaps semaglutide.” This means that there are three active ingredients that could work in parallel.