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Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia—Same or Different?


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  3. Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia—Same or Different?
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Your elderly loved one is starting to forget things more and more often. Your first thought is, this is the beginning of Alzheimer’s.

Not so fast. Alzheimer’s and dementia are terms that are often used interchangeably, but they are not exactly the same thing. Dementia is not a disease—it is a symptom caused by a disease. Alzheimer’s disease causes dementia, but it is not the only cause of dementia. Several brain disorders can lead to the memory loss and poor judgment that characterize dementia.

What is Dementia?

Dementia affects a person’s ability to perform everyday activities independently. People with dementia may have trouble with some or all of the following:

  • Memory
  • Communication and speech
  • Focus and concentration
  • Reasoning and judgment
  • Visual perception (failing to see differences in color or to detect movement, or seeing things that aren’t there)
As people age, changes occur in all parts of the body, including the brain, and it is common to experience more forgetfulness. People may notice as they age that it takes longer to learn new things, they don’t remember information as well as they used to, or they misplace or lose things.

However, dementia is more than simply being forgetful. Here are some signs that might help you determine whether your loved one has dementia.
  • He can’t remember simple words or he slurs words.
  • He forgets important information, like a loved one’s name or birthday.
  • He forgets to perform daily hygiene tasks, such as showering and brushing teeth.
  • He forgets when he ate last. Sometimes people with dementia lose weight because they don’t remember to eat. Or they may gain weight because they don’t remember that they just ate a meal.
  • He garbles information, repeats the same words or phrases multiple times, or tells the same story over and over.
  • She is in a familiar place but forgets how to get home or how to get to a store where she normally shops.
  • Her forgetfulness is placing his safety at risk. For instance, she goes outside in the cold without a coat or he forgets to turn off the stove.
  • She has a hard time making simple decisions, such as what to eat, or has trouble with simple tasks such as getting dressed or making a meal.
  • She seems to have forgotten how to act in social situations and acts in dangerous or inappropriate ways.
  • She forgets times in the past when her memory loss was a problem.
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, accounting for 60% to 80% of dementia cases. It is a disease that worsens over time, and there is no cure. It is most common in people over age 65, but approximately 200,000 Americans under age 65 have the disease.
In addition to forgetfulness, Alzheimer’s causes changes in a person’s mood and behavior. They may have unfounded suspicions about family members or caregivers, or have difficulty walking, talking or swallowing. They may become worried, apathetic, depressed, angry or violent.
Alzheimer’s happens when tau tangles and plaques containing beta amyloid form in the brain. To diagnose Alzheimer’s disease, a neurologist or geriatrician will look at the patient’s medical history, medications and symptoms. The doctor will give the patient memory tests, as well as order lab tests to rule out other disorders that may cause symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s, such as a vitamin B-12 deficiency, thyroid disorder or Parkinson’s disease. Brain imaging tests can rule out causes such as hemorrhages, strokes or tumors.

No single test can diagnose Alzheimer’s. But with the tools he or she has on hand, a doctor can diagnose Alzheimer’s with about 90% certainty, according to Alzheimers.net. Diagnosing Alzheimer’s with 100% certainty can only be done after death with an autopsy of brain tissue.
Other Types of Dementia
If you suspect your loved one has dementia, do everything in your power to get him or her to a doctor for a proper diagnosis. Seniors who do not have Alzheimer’s may have one of these other forms of dementia:
  • Vascular dementia. The second most common cause of dementia, vascular dementia occurs when blood flow is restricted to the brain, and it frequently follows a stroke.
  • Lewy body dementia. This progressive dementia “leads to a decline in thinking, reasoning and independent function because of abnormal microscopic deposits that damage brain cells over time,” according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
  • Frontotemporal dementia. There are various diseases that cause this form of dementia. It differs from Alzheimer’s in that it tends to be diagnosed more frequently in people in their 40s to early 60s. Symptoms vary and can include changes in behavior like judgment and empathy, motor function and language.
  • Huntington’s disease. This brain disorder is caused by a defective gene. It creates uncontrolled movement in the arms, legs, face and upper body, while also causing a decline in reasoning and memory skills.
  • Normal pressure hydrocephalus. Excess cerebrospinal fluid accumulates in the brain’s ventricles, causing thinking and reasoning problems, difficulty walking and loss of bladder control.
  • Parkinson’s disease dementia. This kind of dementia, will eventually affect 50% to 80% of the people who have Parkinson’s disease, a fairly common neurological disorder among the elderly that causes tremors and muscle stiffness.
  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. This rare brain disorder, affecting one in a million people, occurs when prion protein throughout the body, including the brain, begins to fold into an abnormal shape and destroys brain cells. This kind of dementia happens much more quickly than Alzheimer’s.
  • Korsakoff syndrome. This memory disorder results from a severe deficiency of vitamin B-1 and is most commonly caused by heavy drinking.
Many of these dementia-causing diseases have no cure. But often symptoms can be controlled with medication, so keep your loved one in close contact with his or her doctor.
FOR MORE INFORMATION

RESOURCE

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By Jill Renkey for Home Instead Senior Care

Since 1998, Home Instead Senior Care has provided companionship, meal preparation, laundry/light housekeeping, incidental transportation, medication reminders, and personal hygiene assistance to seniors in Montgomery County, MD, and Northwest Washington, DC. For more information, please call (301) 588-9710; HomeInstead.com/197.
This blog is a place for readers to learn strategies for coping with aging loved ones and to obtain insight into the caregiving process. The content of our articles should not be regarded as medical, psychological, or other expert advice, and any reliance on the information provided therein is at your own risk. TFM Enterprises, Inc. d/b/a Home Instead Senior Care (the “Company”) makes no guarantees or promises regarding the accuracy, reliability, or completeness of the information presented and may not be held liable for its use or application. The information contained in this blog is not a substitute for professional advice. The Company reserves the right to delete and/or modify the content of this blog at any time.

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