When it comes to elder care and the aging process, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are often mentioned together. It’s easy to assume that the two go hand-in-hand, but there are some key differences that are important to understand.
Here is a brief guide to dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and what makes them different.
What is dementia?
Let’s start with a simple analogy. Think back to the last time you had a cold. There are many different symptoms you might have when you have a cold: coughing, sneezing, congestion, fatigue, or a runny nose, among others. But there’s no single definition for what qualifies as a cold. Every cold you have over the course of your life is likely to be a little different, but we associate the same general group of symptoms with having a cold.
Dementia is similar in that it’s not a specific disease. Dementia is more of an umbrella term for a variety of symptoms that often appear together and comprise a dementia diagnosis.
People with dementia usually show a mix of these signs:
Decline in memory.
Decline in thinking skills.
Poor reasoning and judgment.
Decreased focus and attention span.
Noticeable changes in language and behavior.
Just as there’s no singular criteria for dementia, there’s no single cause of dementia. Dementia can be a product of genetics and heredity or a traumatic event, such as a stroke. It may also be associated with a specific disease, such as Parkinson’s or Huntington’s. Dementia can be traced to a variety of unusual events in the brain, such as a buildup of protein clumps or spinal fluid or the loss of nerve cells.
There are many different types of dementia, including Lewy body dementia, frontotemporal dementia, vascular dementia, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, among others. A person may also experience a blend of the causes listed above and be diagnosed with “mixed dementia.”
However, the most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease.
What is Alzheimer’s disease?
Unlike dementia, Alzheimer’s disease is a specific brain disease. It is the primary cause of dementia, accounting for anywhere from 60% to 80% of all dementia cases.
The first sign of Alzheimer’s is usually an inability to remember or retain new information. This is because of how Alzheimer’s manifests in the brain. Alzheimer’s is triggered by the buildup of excess proteins and fibers in the brain, which block nerve signals and destroy nerve cells. This buildup occurs first in the part of the brain associated with learning, hence the difficulty remembering anything new.
Over time, these memory issues—and confusion—usually get worse. As the disease progresses, a person with Alzheimer’s may begin to struggle to communicate, sleep, eat, or use the bathroom on their own. Toward the end of their life, an Alzheimer’s patient will most likely need round-the-clock support and supervision.
Similarities between dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Because Alzheimer’s disease is a common cause of dementia, there are many similarities between the two. The signs, symptoms, and progression of dementia and Alzheimer’s are often similar.
There is no single or guaranteed way to prevent dementia or Alzheimer’s. However, the lifestyle habits that may help prevent them are similar. Research shows that these specific behaviors can reduce your risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s:
Eating a healthy diet, with lots of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and healthy proteins.
Staying active. Even just a daily walk can make a meaningful difference.
Limiting substance use. It’s best to keep alcohol consumption to a minimum and quit smoking altogether.
Maintaining healthy blood pressure. This is often a product of diet and exercise.
Seeking treatment for mental illness. There is a complex relationship between dementia and depression: Untreated depression may increase your risk of dementia, but depression may also be a symptom of dementia. Either way, seeing a counselor and asking a doctor about medication is important.
Managing a diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
The news of a dementia or Alzheimer’s diagnosis can be devastating. Your aging loved one may have many challenging years ahead of them, and you may be totally overwhelmed by the daunting task of figuring out how to navigate the process.
We can help you.
Caresultants is a team of elder care experts with years of experience managing care for people with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. We have a deep knowledge of these conditions and can help you understand what to expect. You can pass the burden of care onto our shoulders and let us handle the arrangements, the appointments, and the daily management, so you can focus your energy on making memories with your loved one.