A good two percent of people living in Germany suffer from dementia. That’s around 1.8 million, and according to estimates from the German Alzheimer’s Society, more than 400,000 diagnoses are added every year. The ratio of this number to the total number of dementia cases shows the high mortality. For those affected and their relatives, the enormous burden caused by the loss of brain performance is present every day. But it is usually only when celebrities are hit again that the topic, which is so painful and therefore often suppressed, comes back into the public eye for a while.

This was also the case at the beginning of the year with US actor Bruce Willis, who, according to his family, was suffering from “frontotemporal dementia”. Recently, his wife Emma Heming-Willis said in an interview that it was “hard to know” whether he was aware of his illness. The term “frontotemporal dementia” would probably have been unknown to most people without special medical knowledge before Willis’ illness became known, as this form of mental decline only accounts for around ten percent of cases overall.

However, the dementia that is most commonly diagnosed, accounting for around two thirds of cases, is probably familiar to everyone: Alzheimer’s disease, from which former US President Ronald Reagan suffered, actors such as Karl-Heinz Böhm (“Sissi”) and Peter Falk (“Columbo “), athletes like Rudi Assauer and Ottmar Walter. The name of the German psychiatrist Alois Alzheimer, who discovered the form of dementia based on his research in 1906, is now synonymous with dementia for many people.

But the causes of the loss of our mental performance and the way in which it becomes noticeable are as complex as the neuronal network in our head – from memory gaps that at least initially seem commonplace to hallucinations or dramatic personality changes. The symptoms vary depending on which region of the brain is particularly affected or at least affected first. Although the risk of such a disease of the central nervous system increases significantly with age, at least it is not an inevitable fate for everyone.

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