Difference between Dementia and Alzheimer’s
There can be a little confusion around this and a lot of people think Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are entirely different. They’re actually not.
As part of the Dementia Awareness Month, let’s take some time to clarify a few things about both.
Difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s
Dementia is a syndrome – a set of identifiable symptoms – but it’s not a disease in itself. Alzheimer’s is a disease that falls under the general category of dementia.
Alzheimer’s is, in fact, one form of Dementia; Dementia being a collective word used to describe a range of conditions affecting cognitive abilities and reasoning.
What causes dementia?
Dementia is caused by damage to brain cells. In most cases, the root cause is damaged brain cells which interfere with the ability of communication within the brain cells, among each other.
We tend to associate both Dementia and Alzheimer with mental deterioration in our advancing years and that’s largely true. However, though uncommon, younger people can also develop these debilitating mental conditions.
More than 436,366 Australians are living with Dementia and 1.5 million Australians are involved in their care.
Can anything other than brain cell damage cause Dementia? Unfortunately yes. Chronic drug use can increase the risk of cognitive impairment and perhaps dementia in later life.
The early signs of dementia can be nothing more than a little forgetfulness; not to say that anyone who starts forgetting things has early stage dementia. However, this forgetfulness will be accompanied by disorientation – getting lost in previously familiar areas – and difficulty keeping track of time.
These tend to be the early warning signs. From there, memory loss will start to become more acute and broad ranging. A general confusion will set in with the names of even the most familiar people suddenly beyond recollection.
As things deteriorate further and dementia takes hold, personal care declines until the sufferer becomes incapable of looking after themselves. They may start asking the same questions over and over, become easily agitated and, often, depressed.
As you might expect, some symptoms of Alzheimer’s mirror general dementia symptoms - memory loss, confusion and jumbled thinking, as well as disorientation and depression as the condition advances.
As a result, it can be difficult to make a clear diagnosis until more specific symptoms such as problems with walking, speaking and swallowing set in.
That said, those affected by Alzheimer’s due to Huntington’s or Parkinson’s disease will generally show trembling and involuntary movement symptoms from early on.
Treatments are largely to help manage the condition rather than cure, and there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease.
Drugs such as antipsychotics, antidepressants, and cholinesterase inhibitors are often used as part of an Alzheimer’s management plan. Natural treatments such as fish oil and coconut oil have been found to offer some relief.
However, one of the best treatments for any form of dementia is a good support network, be it family, doctors, Allied Health Assistants and caregivers. Ultimately though, people suffering from dementia will probably need fulltime care in a dedicated assisted living environment.