22 Apr The Difference Between Alzheimer’s and Dementia
People are generally confused by the difference between Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia because the terms are so closely connected.
Alzheimer’s disease is a condition which causes symptoms of dementia. ‘Dementia’ is not a disease – it is the label put on symptoms that show the brain has been affected BEFORE a condition is diagnosed.
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s is a progressive degenerative brain disease that causes impairment to memory and cognitive function. This occurs in stages over time and is the number one cause of dementia symptoms.
The disease itself is a physical build-up of plaques and tangles within the brain. These disrupt normal nerve cell function and eventually, this causes the cells to die. People with Alzheimer’s also present with reduced levels of other necessary brain chemicals which further hinders the brain messaging systems.
Memory loss is usually the first noticeable sign of Alzheimer’s disease. People typically experience difficulty remembering recent events or retaining new information. Other symptoms are struggling to find words, difficulty solving problems or following plotlines on TV or when reading books.
These problems become more significant as the disease progresses whereby people have difficulties with following directions, telling the time of day and problems arise with communication and reasoning. As the disease progresses, people need more day-to-day support with the daily activities of living.
When Alzheimer’s is diagnosed, early treatments can work to temporarily ease some symptoms or slow down disease progression for some people.
Sadly, there is no cure currently available for Alzheimer’s disease and the exact cause is as yet unknown.
Dementia is not a Disease
Dementia is the label put on a range of symptoms relating to brain function that present in a person. It is often linked to the cognitive decline of ageing.
‘Dementia’ is caused by a range of diseases that affects the brain, such as:
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Parkinson’s disease,
- Huntington Disease,
- Vascular Dementia
- Dementia with Lewy bodies.
Each of these above conditions present in different ways. Dementia symptoms are to do with thinking or memory, and people can display difficulties in relation to:
- day-to-day short-term memory
- concentrating, planning or organising,
- following a conversation or finding the right word for something,
- problems judging distances (such as on stairs) and seeing 3-D objects
- losing track of the day or date, or confusion about where they are.
People with dementia often experience mood swings because of the effects of their illness. They can become frustrated or irritable, apathetic or withdrawn, anxious, easily upset or unusually sad. Some types of dementia give visual hallucinations, whereby people see things that are not there. Other forms of dementia give the person delusions whereby they believe things that are not true.
Key Differences between Alzheimer’s and Dementia
- Alzheimer’s is a degenerative and progressive disease which causes dementia symptoms
- Dementia is a range of symptoms linked to cognitive brain functioning.
- Some types of dementia can be temporary or reversible – for example if the cause is drug interaction
- Alzheimer’s is incurable but can be slowed down in some circumstances with drug therapy
Getting a Diagnosis is Vital
You must attend to your GP with a record of the problems you are experiencing, and most likely the GP will then refer to a specialist to rum memory tests and blood tests. This could include:
- mental health specialists, e.g. a psychiatrist
- a geriatrician referral
- a neurologist – specialist on diseases of the nervous system.
Correct treatment and counselling can only start when the correct diagnosis is made for the cause of dementia. This can take some time as it is a process of elimination of various conditions by running several tests.
During this waiting period, people need real support and understanding as they will be understandably anxious about what lies ahead for them.