Your grandmother is forgetting where she put her keys, and sometimes she has trouble remembering what day it is. You’re concerned that she might have Alzheimer’s, but you’ve also heard the term dementia thrown around. So, you’re now wondering, what is the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia?
Although often used interchangeably, Alzheimer’s and dementia refer to different conditions. Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a decline in cognitive ability, while Alzheimer’s disease is a specific type of dementia that is characterized by the buildup of abnormal proteins in the brain.
The first symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease typically involve changes in memory, thinking, and reasoning skills.
What is dementia?
Dementia isn’t a specific disease but a term used to describe a group of conditions that affect cognitive function, including language, memory, and decision-making abilities. It’s characterized by the impairment of at least two brain functions severe enough to interfere with daily life.
Individuals with dementia may experience forgetfulness, difficulty with communication, disorientation, and changes in mood or behavior.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 50 million people worldwide are living with dementia, with nearly 10 million new cases diagnosed each year. While age is a significant risk factor for developing dementia, it’s not the normal aging process. In fact, many people can maintain their cognitive function well into their later years.
Causes of dementia
Dementia is a complex condition, and the exact causes of the different types of dementia are not always clear. However, here are some common causes and risk factors associated with dementia:
- Age: As we age, our risk of developing dementia increases. Dementia is more common in people over the age of 65.
- Genetics: Some types of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s, can be inherited genetically.
- Lifestyle factors: Certain lifestyle factors, such as poor nutrition, lack of physical exercise, smoking, and excessive alcohol consumption, can increase the risk of developing dementia.
- Medical conditions: Certain medical conditions, such as stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, and traumatic brain injury, can increase the risk of developing dementia.
- Neurodegenerative diseases: Dementia can be caused by certain neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Huntington’s disease.
- Infections: In rare cases, infections such as HIV, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), and other viral or bacterial infections can cause dementia.
It is worth noting that some causes of dementia are preventable or modifiable through lifestyle changes, while others are not. It’s important to maintain a healthy lifestyle, manage underlying medical conditions, and seek early diagnosis and treatment to manage the symptoms of dementia.
Symptoms of dementia
The symptoms of dementia appear when healthy nerve cells in one’s brain break down, lose connections with other cells, and eventually die. Although neuron loss comes with age, individuals who have dementia lose a lot more.
The symptoms of dementia include:
- Memory loss – It’s characterized by difficulty recalling recent events or important information.
- Difficulty communicating – Individuals have difficulty finding the right words, understanding others, or expressing themselves.
- Difficulty with visual and spatial abilities – These include judging distance or navigating familiar surroundings.
- Difficulty with reasoning or problem-solving – One may have difficulty following instructions or making decisions.
- Difficulty handling complex tasks – These may include managing finances or medications.
- Difficulty with planning and organizing – Someone has difficulty with tasks involving multiple steps.
In addition to the symptoms mentioned above, individuals with dementia may also experience changes in mood or behavior, such as depression, anxiety, or agitation.
As the condition progresses, they may become increasingly dependent on others for assistance with daily activities, such as dressing, grooming, and feeding. While dementia has no cure, early diagnosis and treatment can help manage symptoms and improve quality of life.
Types of dementia
Dementia can take many different forms, each with its own set of symptoms and characteristics. Some of the most common types of dementia include:
- Alzheimer’s disease: This is a progressive brain disorder that is characterized by a decline in cognitive function, including memory loss and difficulty with language and decision-making.
- Vascular dementia: This is the second most common type of dementia and is caused by a blockage or damage to the blood vessels that supply blood to the brain, leading to brain bleeding or mini-strokes. Unlike Alzheimer’s, its first symptom isn’t a memory loss. Instead, early symptoms depend on the affected part of the brain. Some of these symptoms include issues with judgment or planning.
- Lewy body dementia: This is a type of dementia that is caused by Lewy bodies which are abnormal protein deposits (known as alpha-synuclein) in the brain. These protein clumps build up in the cortex, the portion of the brain that handles memory and learning. As such, this type of dementia is characterized by sleeping problems, hallucinations, unbalanced movements, issues with attention, and memory loss in the advanced stages.
- Frontotemporal dementia: This type of dementia is characterized by the degeneration of nerve cells in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain, leading to changes in behavior, personality, and language. Some individuals also develop problems with comprehension and writing.
- Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD): This is a rare and fatal brain disorder caused by prions, which are abnormal proteins that can cause damage to the brain, causing a mental decline. Individuals with CJD experience confusion, mood changes, trouble walking, and jerky or twitchy movements
- Huntington’s disease: This is a genetic disorder that causes progressive degeneration of the brain, leading to a wide range of cognitive, emotional, and movement-related symptoms.
- Normal pressure hydrocephalus: This is a condition in which excess cerebrospinal fluid accumulates in the brain, leading to cognitive decline, difficulty with walking, and urinary incontinence.
- Mixed dementia: This diagnosis is used on an individual with clinical symptoms from multiple types of dementia. For instance, when they manifest symptoms of dementia with Lewy bodies and Alzheimer’s disease.
It’s important to note that there are many other types of dementia, and symptoms and characteristics can vary depending on the type and stage of the condition. Diagnosis and treatment should be tailored to the individual’s needs and may involve a combination of medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes.
What is Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s is a progressive brain disorder affecting memory, thinking, and behavior. It is the most common cause of dementia, accounting for up to 70% of all cases. The disease is characterized by the gradual degeneration and death of brain cells, which leads to a decline in cognitive function.
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease can vary depending on the stage of the disease. Generally, they can be categorized into three stages: mild, moderate, and severe.
Mild Alzheimer’s disease may involve the following symptoms:
- Memory loss, especially forgetting recent events or important information
- Difficulty with problem-solving or planning
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks
- Confusion about time or place
- Changes in mood or behavior
Moderate Alzheimer’s disease may involve the following symptoms:
- Increased memory loss and confusion
- Difficulty with communication, including finding the right words or following a conversation
- Difficulty with self-care, including dressing and grooming
- Behavioral changes, including agitation, wandering, or suspicion
- Difficulty with spatial awareness, such as getting lost in familiar places
Severe Alzheimer’s disease may involve the following symptoms:
- Loss of ability to communicate verbally or in writing
- Loss of ability to recognize loved ones or familiar objects
- Severe difficulty with mobility, including walking and sitting upright
- Total dependence on caregivers for basic needs
Which comes first, dementia or Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s disease begins in the brain many years before symptoms become noticeable. Since early symptoms are mild, they don’t interfere with daily activities. It’s only later, as the disease progresses, that symptoms become severe enough to be called ‘dementia.’
Treatment differences for Alzheimer’s vs dementia
Alzheimer’s disease care is generally similar to treatment for types of dementia. Medications such as cholinesterase inhibitors and memantine can help improve cognitive function and manage behavioral symptoms.
Therapy, including occupational therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy, can also help manage symptoms and improve quality of life. Lifestyle changes such as exercise and a healthy diet can also be beneficial.
However, some types of dementia, such as vascular dementia or dementia with Lewy bodies, may require different treatments. For example, treating the underlying vascular condition causing vascular dementia, such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol, may help slow the progression of the disease.
In the case of dementia with Lewy bodies, medications used to treat Parkinson’s disease may be effective in managing symptoms such as tremors and stiffness. As this form of dementia progresses, it is important to find quality home health nursing where the caregivers are experienced in caring for people with dementia.
Overall, while there may be some variation in treatment options based on the specific type of dementia, the treatment goals are generally the same: to manage symptoms, improve cognitive function and quality of life, and slow disease progression.
It’s important to work with a healthcare provider to develop a treatment plan tailored to the individual’s needs and stage of the condition.
Get care for Alzheimer’s and dementia
While there is no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia, they can be managed with proper care. This can include a combination of medication, therapy, lifestyle changes, and support from loved ones and caregivers. With the right care, individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia can continue to live full and meaningful lives.
At Trusted Touch Healthcare, we understand the challenges that come with caring for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. As such, we offer specialized care options tailored to each individual’s unique needs.
Our compassionate caregivers are trained in techniques to help manage symptoms and improve the quality of life for those living with these conditions. If you or a loved one needs care for Alzheimer’s or dementia, contact Trusted Touch Healthcare at (301) 272-5140 to learn more about our services and how we can help.