Dementia and Alzheimer's disease are often confused with each other. This is partly because they share many symptoms, something that makes it hard for many people to distinguish them. It is important to understand the real difference between the two. This will put you in a better position to seek appropriate treatment and help someone affected by these diseases. So what is the difference between Alzheimer's and dementia?
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What Is Dementia?
Dementia is a general term that describes a group of similar diseases that affect cognitive ability, especially among the elderly. This syndrome can occur due to a variety of conditions. There are many different types of dementia and people can have more than one type, a condition called mixed dementia.
Common symptoms of dementia include:
- A decline in memory
- Difficulties with thinking and problem solving
- Communication impairment
- Changes in mood and behavior
Dementia is progressive. The signs and symptoms start out slowly and get worse with time. Depending on the part of the brain that is affected, dementia will go through seven stages. The stages of dementia are:
- No cognitive impairment
- Very mild cognitive decline
- Mild mental decline
- Moderate decline
- Moderately severe cognitive decline
- Severe mental decline
- Very severe decline
What Is Alzheimer's Disease?
Alzheimer's, on the other hand, is a specific brain disease. This degenerative disease affects parts of the brain that deal with memory and language. When symptoms become severe, they can interfere with daily tasks.
The symptoms of Alzheimer's and dementia can overlap. In addition to the above symptoms, Alzheimer's may also be characterized by:
- Difficulty swallowing and walking
Just like dementia, Alzheimer's disease progresses slowly in several stages. The general stages of Alzheimer's are:
- Stage 1: Preclinical Alzheimer's disease
- Stage 2: Mild or early stage
- Stage 3: Moderate or middle stage
- Stage 4: Severe or late-stage
There is no single test for diagnosing dementia and Alzheimer's disease. For an accurate diagnosis, your doctor will look at your medical history and order a series of brain activity scans, laboratory tests, and cognitive tests. In some cases, a psychiatric evaluation is required.
However, a diagnosis of dementia should be regarded as a general diagnosis of symptoms that a wide range of diseases may cause. As such, additional tests are needed to reach a definite conclusion of Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Huntington's or any other similar disease. Indeed, each of these diseases impacts a different range of cognitive abilities.
Another key difference between Alzheimer's and dementia relates to the treatment of the disorders.
There is currently no cure for Alzheimer's disease. Treatment focuses on maintaining comfort and a full life as the disease progresses through the different stages. This involves learning how to cope with the confusion, memory loss, and other symptoms of the disease. Oftentimes, the patient may end up moving to an assisted living or retirement community with full-time on-site caregiving staff.
In addition, medication can be used to slow the progression of the disease. Certain treatments that involve therapies and activities can also help individuals with Alzheimer's to cope with symptoms and improve their quality of life.
Here, treatment will depend on the cause and form of dementia. For instance, medicine can be used to improve symptoms if dementia is caused by vitamin deficiencies or other health problems. Also, depending on the type of dementia, your doctor may recommend non-drug approaches such as:
- Getting blood sugar under control
- Treating hydrocephalus
- Stopping the use of alcohol and other drugs
Since different forms of dementia affect people in different ways, some patients are able to maintain independent living with minimal care.
What You Can Do To Help Someone Affected By These Diseases
In addition to understanding treatment options, you should learn some ways to help someone affected by these diseases. Below are a few tips for caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's or dementia.
Keep a routine: A constant daily routine will help to keep your loved one comfortable and allow them to focus on activities that they like and find meaningful.
Plan activities: Cooking, listening to music, watching movies, and doing house chores together will help your loved one to stay engaged and active.
Help them connect: Make it easy for your loved one to participate in conversations and communicate with others.
Help them eat a nutritious diet: Eating well and staying hydrated will go a long way in promoting good physical and mental health.
Keep them safe: Take measures to protect your loved one from everyday situations that can make them feel unsafe or put them in danger.
Caregiving and support will go a long way in helping with Alzheimer's and dementia. Sarasota Bay Club is a luxury retirement community in Sarasota, Florida. If you have a loved one living with dementia or Alzheimer's, explore their assisted living and independent living options.