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Alzheimer’s and Dementia: Is There a Difference?

difference between alzheimer's and dementia

There are nearly 10 million new cases of dementia each year around the world, according to the World Health Organization.

The WHO also attributes between 60 and 70 percent of these cases to Alzheimer’s disease. The terms “dementia” and “Alzheimer’s” are often used interchangeably.

This isn’t accurate, though. What is the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia? And how do we care for loved ones who have dementia or Alzheimer’s?

Read on to find out more about both of these conditions.

What is Dementia?

Dementia is a syndrome that impacts the brain. A syndrome is a group of symptoms. People with dementia have a decline in their cognitive abilities. Cognitive abilities are your brain’s ability to process thoughts and access memories.

Forgetfulness is a normal part of aging. Dementia goes beyond forgetfulness. It impacts multiple brain functions. It becomes difficult for someone with dementia to remember things. They may have challenges in understanding what’s going on in the world around them. They may also lose the ability to learn new things.

To be medically diagnosed with dementia, you or a loved one would need to have serious difficulties in at least two of the following areas:

  • Visual perception
  • Concentration and the ability to focus
  • Memory
  • The ability to speak and communicate
  • The ability to reason and make good judgments

Dementia can be caused by specific diseases, such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s, or from injuries to the brain. It’s possible to have multiple types of dementia at the same time, which is referred to as mixed dementia.

What is Alzheimer’s Disease?

The primary difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s disease is that Alzheimer’s is a specific type of dementia. The National Institute of Aging estimates that more than 5 million American’s may have Alzheimer’s. It’s the most common form of dementia in older adults.

The first sign of Alzheimer’s disease is often memory loss. There may be other signs as well, though, in having difficulties in recalling specific words and having trouble with reasoning.

As Alzheimer’s progresses, there is increased memory loss and difficulty in thinking. People with Alzheimer’s may become lost or disoriented. There may also be changes in personality.

As time goes on, people with Alzheimer’s may have a difficult time with daily activities such as dressing. They may also have delusions or become paranoid. People at the end stages of Alzheimer’s may not be able to communicate. They may be completely dependent on caregivers.

What is the Difference Between Alzheimer’s and Dementia?

The primary difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s is that while all people with Alzheimer’s have dementia, not everyone with dementia has Alzheimer’s.

Some types of dementia share several symptoms with Alzheimer’s. For example, Lewy body dementia has some of the same symptoms as Alzheimer’s. People with Lewy body dementia are more likely to have sleep disturbances and hallucinations, though.

Another difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia is how Alzheimer’s impacts the brain. Scientists aren’t sure of what initially causes Alzheimer’s. They do know that once it starts, proteins and fibers build up in the brain. They destroy nerve cells, which is what causes the symptoms.

Other types of dementia have other causes. For example, vascular dementia is caused by not getting enough blood to the brain. This sometimes happens after a stroke.

Treatment Options for Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia

The treatment plan for dementia depends on the type of dementia. This is because each type of dementia has a different cause. There are similarities between the various treatments, though.

It’s important to note that there is no cure for Alzheimer’s. Most forms of dementia have no cure, unfortunately. There are treatments to help manage and slow symptoms, though.

Alzheimer’s Treatment Options

For Alzheimer’s, common treatment options include:

  • Medications to help with sleep changes
  • Medications to help with depression
  • Medications to help with behavioral changes and paranoia
  • Medications to slow memory loss, such as memantine and donepezil

You may also be able to alleviate some symptoms with a healthy diet and regular exercise. Exercise is known for its ability to improve mood, which can help combat the depression often associated with Alzheimer’s.

Dementia Treatment Options

The treatment for dementia varies depending on which type of dementia. For example, dementia caused by Lewy body dementia and Parkinson’s disease is often treated with some of the same medications that are used for Alzheimer’s.

A doctor may treat vascular dementia by prescribing medications to help lower blood pressure and prevent blood clotting.

Care Options for Loved Ones with Alzheimer’s Disease or Dementia

Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia can be difficult. Most families strive to keep their loved one at home and living independently for as long as possible. Some care options to consider if it’s safe for your loved one to spend time alone include in-home care and adult day care.

In-home caregivers can come in as often as you prefer (and can afford). They can help your loved one with activities like bathing and dressing as well as light housekeeping tasks. Adult day care programs provide meals and activities for your loved one. They can socialize and have care during the day while you’re at work, and then be cared for by you and other family members in the evenings.

As time goes on, it can become more difficult to care for a loved one at home. Some forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s, include personality changes. Your loved one may become combative. Many families also become concerned about safety.

In-patient memory care facilities can help at this point. They provide professional care while striving to keep your loved one as independent as possible. Your loved one can socialize with other residents and has constant supervision. Memory care facilities are safe environments where your loved one is supported.

We’re Here for You

As you learn about the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia, you may realize your loved one needs an advanced level of care.

At Season’s Memory Care, we pride ourselves on providing professional care in state-of-the-art facilities. We have advanced monitoring systems to help keep your loved one secure. We encourage our residents to be as independent as possible, though.

Contact us today to find out how we can support you.

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