Although the terms dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are often used interchangeably, the two conditions are quite different and may require different levels of care. In spite of the amount of research, the causes of Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia remain unclear.
Dementia refers to a syndrome, meaning a group of symptoms. It affects cognitive tasks such as memory and reasoning. As an overall term, dementia includes Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, accounting for as much as 70% of all dementia cases.
As a syndrome, dementia doesn’t refer to a specific disease. Rather, it’s an umbrella term that covers a range of conditions, including Alzheimer’s. Patients can experience more than one type of dementia, known as mixed dementia.
As dementia progresses, it can have dramatic effects on a person’s ability to live and function independently and is a major cause of disability for older adults. While dementia puts an emotional and financial burden on families and caregivers, it’s important to help people keep as much of their independence, for as long as possible, providing support when necessary.
Generally, symptoms of dementia include difficulties with memory, language, focus, and thinking or reasoning. These may exhibit symptoms including:
• Anxiety and distress
• Low mood
• Detachment and disinterest
• Repeating the same questions
• Disturbed sleep
• Aimlessly walking around
• Inappropriate behavior, such as social and sexual acting out
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While dementia is a group of symptoms that negatively affect memory, Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease of the brain, slowly impairing a person’s memory, thinking, reasoning, and decision making.
According to the National Institute of Health, more than 5 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s. Symptoms typically appear after age 60, but younger people can get Alzheimer’s. Fibers and protein build up in the brain, breaking down connections between cells, and causing those brain cells begin to die.
Damage to the brain begins years before symptoms begin to appear.
• Difficulty remembering recent events or conversations
• Impaired judgment
• Behavioral changes
• Motor skills like speaking, swallowing, or walking
Treating Dementia and Alzheimer’s
Treatment will vary, depending on the type of dementia, and many treatment options for dementia and Alzheimer’s overlap. It’s important to note that dementia isn’t curable or reversible. Treating the symptoms can have a positive effect on how the patient, and their family, cope with the disease.
Most often, dementia isn’t reversible, but the causes – including Parkinson’s disease and vascular dementia – can be treated. Treatments for dementia can include medication, therapies, and lifestyle changes.
As with other forms of dementia, there’s no cure yet for Alzheimer’s but treatments to manage symptoms include:
• Medications, such as antipsychotics and antidepressants, to treat behavioral changes
• Medications for memory loss, such as cholinesterase inhibitors donepezil (Aricept), rivastigmine (Exelon), and memantine (Namenda)
• Alternative remedies, such as coconut oil and fish oil, that aim to boost brain function and overall health
• Light therapy and medications to treat changes in sleep
Learn More About the Differences of Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia with Baptist Health
If you have concerns about symptoms of dementia or Alzheimer’s, in yourself or someone you know, and would like to learn more, contact the Baptist Health Neuroscience and Stroke team today. If this is a medical emergency, please dial 911.