The Difference Between Dementia and Alzheimer’s

Your loved one seems confused. He can’t remember his grandson’s name, or where he put his checkbook. His symptoms worsen when he gets lost driving home from his local grocery store, and he finds his checkbook in the freezer. You are concerned and begin to research treatment options. Do you search for articles regarding dementia or Alzheimer’s? What is the difference? Can either be treated?

difference between dementia and alzheimers

Dementia or Alzheimer’s?

To help you understand the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, one needs to realize that dementia is not a disease or syndrome. Instead, dementia is a group of symptoms that affect a person’s thought processes that are required to perform everyday tasks independently.

Alzheimer’s is a disease that affects the brain. Nerve cells are disrupted and are unable to communicate with each other. Alzheimer’s disease is one type of dementia. Everyone with Alzheimer’s disease has dementia, but not everyone who is having the symptoms of dementia has Alzheimer’s disease.

Symptoms associated with dementia

One of the most common signs of dementia is short-term memory loss. Your loved one may not be able to remember what he had for dinner, but he can tell you about the time someone helped him change the brakes in his car fifty years ago.

Other symptoms associated with dementia include repetitious questioning or a difficult time finding words or both. Your loved one may have a difficult time remember details. Because of this, conversations with your loved one may be frustrating.

Other symptoms of dementia include not being able to keep track of time. Your loved one may forget meals or go to bed at strange times. Because of these tendencies, they may have a hard time caring for themselves.

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease

Those who have Alzheimer’s have symptoms associated with dementia plus more. Alzheimer’s patients may suffer from impaired judgments, behavioral changes, disorientation, and apathy. People with Alzheimer’s may forget conversations and events and not remember them later.

Abstract concepts, like numbers, may be difficult to grasp for Alzheimer’s patients. Because of this, Alzheimer patients may have a hard time managing their finances and paying their bills. Sometimes they overspend on things that aren’t needed.

One of the most challenging symptoms of Alzheimer’s is when it affects the patient’s personality and behavior. Not only do these patients offer suffer from depression and apathy, but they may also have mood swings, may distrust others, could wander off, or maybe lose inhibitions. A person who was once even-tempered may become easily irritated and show aggression. Alzheimer’s patients may suffer from delusional behavior, even thinking that someone in their own life is trying to harm them.

As the disease progresses, patients may forget how to dress, feed themselves, and use the toilet. The patients may not recognize their loved ones. In advanced stages, patients may have a difficult time walking, speaking, or swallowing.

Other causes or types of dementia

There’s no doubt that Alzheimer’s is the most well-known type of dementia, but there are other causes or types as well.

Vascular dementia is caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain. A disease of the small blood vessels in the brain or a stroke causes this type of dementia.

Lewy body dementia occurs when abnormal structures form in the brain and kill nerve cells.

Similarly, frontotemporal dementia occurs when abnormal protein form in front and on the side of the brain and cause the death of nerve cells.

Other diseases may result in dementia symptoms as well. They include Parkinson’s, Creutzfeldt-Jakob, and Huntington’s diseases.

Even if you are not suffering from one of these diseases, that doesn’t mean that you or your loved one will not experience the symptoms of dementia as you age. Cardiovascular diseases, strokes, depression, and chronic drug and alcohol use can cause dementia as well.

Causes of Alzheimer’s disease

Even though researchers are closer to understanding what is happening in the brain of Alzheimer’s patients, they aren’t sure what causes it. It could be a protein in the blood, which the body uses to move cholesterol in the blood. Certain forms of this protein may cause brain damage.

Genetics also plays a part in Alzheimer’s. Unfortunately, if your parent is suffering from this disease, you are more likely to have it too.

Some researchers think that head injuries may cause Alzheimer’s later on in life.

Other research says that people who have high blood pressure and high cholesterol may have a higher chance as well.  Those who are obese, smokers, and diabetics also have a higher chance of suffering from this type of dementia.

Treatment for dementia symptoms

Since dementia in itself isn’t a disease, it can’t be cured. There are some ways to manage the symptoms.

Sometimes medications can help treat some of the symptoms. Cholinesterase inhibitor medications boost levels of a chemical messenger involved in memory and judgment. Memantine is another medication that regulates chemical messengers in the brain. Your loved one’s doctor may also prescribe other drugs to treat other symptoms associated with dementia such as depression, sleep disturbances, or agitation.

Working with occupational therapists can also help your loved one learn how to prevent falls and manage behavior. Therapists can provide organizational strategies for your loved one that will help them maintain their lifestyle as long as possible. Therapists can help patients break tasks into smaller steps to enable the patient to be as independent for as long as possible.

You can help someone with dementia by reducing household clutter and ridding the home of objects that can be unsafe.

Treatment for Alzheimer’s disease

As mentioned earlier, some medications help treat the dementia symptoms of Alzheimer’s. The medicine the doctor prescribes depends on what stage of Alzheimer’s your loved one is experiencing. All of the medications come with possible adverse side effects.

Alternative treatments for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia

Some may put all their hope in alternative treatments for dementia. While some give testimonials regarding the effectiveness of certain dietary supplements, there is usually little scientific research available to support these claims. Also, the FDA cannot enforce the purity of any of these supplements, and they may interact negatively with medications prescribed by your doctor. Some of these alternative treatments include caprylic acid and coconut oil, coenzyme Q10, coral calcium, ginkgo biloba, huperzine A, omega-3 fatty acids, and phosphatidylserine. Do your research before trying these treatments, and always check with your doctor.

Prevention of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia

Currently, there is no proven way to prevent Alzheimer’s or the symptoms of dementia, but since many of the risk factors involve heart disease, it only makes sense that paying attention to your cardiovascular health could help reduce your chance of the disease. Doctors encourage their patients to watch their weight, to exercise, and to eat a diet rich in vegetables, fruit, and healthy fats. Some studies show that a lifelong involvement in mentally and socially stimulating activities may help reduce your risk for the dreaded disease.

Whether you or your loved one suffers from symptoms of dementia or has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, know you are not alone. Reach out to the Alzheimer’s Association to receive resources and counseling for you and your loved ones.