Difference between Dementia and Alzheimer

by cadabamshospital

26 August,2020 | 1 month read

Alzheimer dementia treatment

How is Alzheimer's different from Dementia? A Detailed Overview

Alzheimer’s disease and Dementia aren’t the same. Many people including professionals sometimes tend to use these terms interchangeably. In this blog, we will help you understand what is dementia and Alzheimer’s and what is the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s.

In layman’s terms, Dementia is a group of symptoms that affect the mental abilities of an individual, and Alzheimer’s disease is a type of Dementia that affects language, memory, and thought.

What is Dementia Disease?

Dementia constitutes a group of symptoms showing an overall cognitive decline characterized by issues and impairment of memory, language, judgment, behaviour, problem-solving, and other thinking abilities. It is of a chronic or progressive nature. 

Dementia is not a single disease. It is a comprehensive term that covers a wide range of specific medical conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, Lewy body dementia, etc. The prime characteristic of Dementia diseases is 'brain degeneration' and the disorders under this umbrella of therm 'dementia' are caused by abnormal brain changes.

Brain damage is a consequence of loss of neurons or neuronal connections. The most common cause of dementia is the destruction of cells in the brain. Even though age is considered to be a strong factor of contribution to dementia, dementia problems are not restricted to senile dementia and can also be offset in younger age groups.

Dementia: Symptoms & Treatment

Earlier there was a common notion that Dementia is nothing but ‘senility’ - the cognitive changes with advanced age. But it is often difficult for families to understand the differences when it comes to ageing vs. dementia vs. senility. It is a common myth that elderly people are likely to develop dementia. Though dementia is most common in the older demographic, it is not just the senile who have the likelihood of developing dementia. People in their 40s can also show symptoms of the diseases in the early stages leading to the early onset of dementia, but this only occurs when they have family members with dementia.

The symptoms of dementia become pronounced as the stages progress. Sometimes, Dementia symptoms may also be caused due to two or more other diseases. Such a condition is known as Mixed Dementia. At early stages, dementia causes the emergence of symptoms such as:

  1. An inability to accept changes to routine
  2. Changes in short term memory
  3. An inefficiency at multitasking

At later stages, dementia may exhibit symptoms such as:

  1. Increased difficulty in communication
  2. Lack of personal hygiene

Whereas senility symptoms also include physical changes such as:

  1. Stiff joints
  2. Change in posture
  3. Decreased strength
  4. Wrinkling of the skin
  5. Loss of vision or hearing
  6. Brittle bones or bone loss

At the later stage of dementia, it becomes imperative for caregivers and family members to be present all the time to take care of the patient. At an advanced stage of dementia, complete dependency on the caregiver is expected. You can also check Dementia Rehab or assisted living facilities like Cadabams Hospitals.

A proper diagnosis of dementia is required to differentiate it from other mental health disorders that may exhibit similar symptoms. As there are different stages of dementia as well, there are a number of tests done for the proper diagnosis of dementia. Listed below are all the ways in which dementia is diagnosed:

  1. Dementia screening
  2. Review of physical symptoms
  3. Review of medications
  4. Blood tests
  5. Imaging scans
  6. Psychological screening

There are two types of primary dementia treatments that are used to help manage symptoms of dementia. 

Medications: The most common type of dementia occur due to Alzheimer’s diseases, here is the medication that is used to treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease:

Cholinesterase inhibitors: One of the drugs used in senile dementia treatment, an increase in a chemical called acetylcholine. This chemical is designed to help the patient form memories and improve their judgment capabilities. It may also delay the worsening symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and subsequently dementia.

In most cases, these medications can also be prescribed together. There can also be side effects of taking this drug. Patients and their caregivers should research about the side effects before going ahead with their medications. These medications can only be prescribed by a licensed medical professional. 

Non-Drug Therapy: In the case of frontotemporal dementia treatment, occupational therapy is the best way to manage the symptoms. This type of therapy takes the help of trained dementia caregivers to help the patient get back on their feet by assisting them with understanding how to do their daily tasks like bathing, dressing, or eating properly.

Mixed Approach: Lewy body dementia treatment comprises blood tests, brain scans along with prescriptions of medications as well as therapy recommendations. 

Types of Dementia

Different types of dementia depend on what type of brain cell is damaged in what particular regions of the brain. 

Alzheimer’s disease – It is the most common cause of dementia and is caused by the aggregation of proteins called plaques and tangles causing the brain cells to waste away. 

Lewy body dementia – It is caused by the formation of balloon-like clumps in the brain of people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. Lewy body dementia treatment comprises blood tests, brain scans along with several prescriptions of medications, and therapy recommendations. 

Vascular dementia – Another common type of Dementia is caused by damage to the vasculature that supplies blood to the brain. This type of Dementia can occur due to a brain stroke as well.

Frontotemporal dementia – It is a group of dementias that are characterized by damage to the frontal and temporal areas of the brain. Frontotemporal dementia causes damage mostly in terms of speaking ability, personality, and behaviour. Occupational therapy is a great way for frontotemporal dementia treatment as it aims to help the patient get back on their feet by assisting them with understanding how to do their daily tasks properly.

Alzheimer’s Disease: Symptoms & Treatment

Alzheimer’s is a progressive brain disease that is caused due to complex brain changes following cells to waste away, damage, and die. It slowly affects the brain causing impairment in cognitive abilities and memory. Alzheimer’s disease is progressive in nature and worsens over time.

The cause of this is unknown. In Alzheimer’s disease, there is a formation of abnormal structures in the brain, which blocks communication between the brain cells leading to the death of brain cells. It is not possible to diagnose someone with this disease with complete accuracy, but the patient is diagnosed as ‘probable Alzheimer’s disease’.

The symptoms of Dementia and Alzheimer’s may overlap, but there are some differences. Similar symptoms include reduced ability to think, impairment in communication, and memory.

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s mostly include -

  1. Difficulty in remembering people and conversations
  2. Forgetfulness
  3. Poor judgment
  4. Time and place confusion
  5. Vision changes related to cataracts 
  6. Getting confused about the day of the week but figuring it out later
  7. Making errors while managing finances and other tasks
  8. Trouble finding the right word while having conversations
  9. Misplacing things from time to time
  10. Feeling uninterested in the family or social obligations
  11. Becoming irritable when a routine is disrupted
  12. Difficulty in doing tasks such as cooking, bathing or grooming, and impaired language

Difference between Dementia and Alzheimer

There is a significant difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia. Dementia is an overall term that is used to describe symptoms that have an impact on the memory, communication ability, and overall performance of the person.

Alzheimer's disease is a type of dementia and it is the most common form of Dementia. Alzheimer's gets worse over time and it begins to affect the language, memory, and thought process of the individual, hence early diagnosis is essential to effective treatment.

While younger people are at risk of developing Dementia or Alzheimer's disease, the risk will increase as you age. However, you must note that neither dementia nor Alzheimer's is a normal part of ageing.

Dementia vs Alzheimer’s Difference

Dementia is an overall term used to describe symptoms that impact the performance of daily activities, communication abilities, and memory. Whereas, Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, which gets worse with time and affects memory, language, and thought. Although the symptoms of the two diseases may seem similar and overlap, you must understand dementia and Alzheimer's differences. This will be important for the management and treatment of these diseases. 

Outlook for Alzheimer's disease:

Alzheimer’s disease is one of the highest leading causes of death among senior citizens. Approximately one in three people, aged 65 and above, will die from Alzheimer's disease or any other type of dementia. It will kill more people than breast and prostate cancer.

The life expectancy for patients suffering from Alzheimer's disease tends to vary depending on many factors; average life expectancy is three to eleven years (post-diagnosis), but people can go on to live with Alzheimer's for 20 years or more.

If the symptoms for Alzheimer's show at the age of 75, they are likely to live for another seven years or so, post-diagnosis. But, if the symptoms affect someone around the age of 90 then they are likely to live for another three years, approximately.

Since Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, the earlier the diagnosis is made and the earlier treatment begins, the better is the outlook for the patient.

Outlook for people with Dementia vs. people with Alzheimer’s

The outlook for patients suffering from dementia depends completely on the direct cause of dementia. The available treatments are used to make the symptoms of dementia manageable, but there is no sure-fire way of stopping the deterioration of the mind due to this disease.

Although vascular dementia can be slowed down in some cases, it can still shorten a patient’s lifespan. Some dementia variants are reversible, but most of them are irreversible and can cause physical and mental impairments, over time.

Alzheimer's is a terminal illness, and no cure is available. The period between each of the three stages varies. The average patient diagnosed with Alzheimer's has an approximate lifespan of four to eight years (post-diagnosis). However, there have been patients who have lived for 20 years, after the diagnosis.

It’s best to talk to your doctor if you are concerned about the symptoms of dementia or Alzheimer's disease. It’s best to start treatment as soon as possible because it will help manage your symptoms more effectively.

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