Senior woman with glasses looking worried out the window

How to Know the Difference Between Alzheimer’s and Dementia

Alzheimer’s and dementia often get discussed in close relation and sometimes even used interchangeably. When an article talks about Alzheimer’s disease, the term dementia is usually not far ahead.

But contrary to popular belief, Alzheimer’s and dementia refer to two different medical terms that are closely related but not the same. 

It is essential to know which is which, especially if you are a caregiver or a family member with a loved one suffering from either of the diseases. 

Here’s an in-depth walkthrough on the difference between the two terms, their symptoms, causes, and prevention.

 

Alzheimer’s and Dementia: What’s the Difference?

Dementia is a general term referring to a group of symptoms affecting a person’s mental cognitive abilities. This includes:

  • Impaired memory and thinking skills
  • Poor reasoning capabilities
  • Problems in language and communication
  • Poor focus and attention

It is not a specific disease but rather an umbrella term characterized by the symptoms mentioned above. It can be caused by a wide range of disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s disease, on the other hand, refers to a progressive and irreversible brain disorder characterized by the degeneration of the brain’s cognitive function. It impairs a person’s ability to do simple, day-to-day tasks, thus interfering with his/her capacity to function independently.

Alzheimer’s is responsible for almost 60 to 80% of dementia cases in the US. It usually presents itself during a person’s senior years (their 60s), but its early onset can also occur as early as mid-30s.

 

Understanding Dementia: Its Symptoms and Causes

Dementia–a syndrome pertaining to a set of symptoms affecting mental abilities–happens when several nerve cells die, stops functioning, or lose connection with one another, simultaneously. 

Nerve cells typically deteriorate as you grow older, but they do not do that as fast and in more significant amounts as that of a person with dementia. Besides Alzheimer’s, dementia occurs due to several causes, such as:

  • Frontotemporal disorders and vascular diseases
  • Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Brain injuries caused by accidents
  • Central nervous system infections like HIV and meningitis
  • Chronic alcohol and drug use
  • Depression
  • Side effects of medications

Dementia starts slowly and presents itself in simple bouts of forgetfulness like losing track of time and suddenly forgetting what you were about to do.

As it progresses, seniors with dementia experience repeated forgetfulness with confusion. Then comes the impaired decision-making abilities, communication skills, and judgment.

Seniors in the advanced stages of dementia have difficulty remembering names, faces, and other familiar information. Their hygiene and diet also become affected. Also, personality changes become evident, such as aggression, depression, and mood swings.

 

How to Treat Dementia

Another stark difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia is that about 20% of dementia can be reversed and treated. Dementia caused by metabolic disorders, alcoholism, and infection can be cured once the underlying condition gets treated. 

As long as the dementia is caused by a curable condition, you have a massive chance of reversing it.

 

Senior woman consoling senior man sitting down who looks worried, has dementia

Understanding Alzheimer’s Disease: Its Symptoms, Causes, and Risk Factors

Alzheimer’s disease pertains to a neurodegenerative disorder that occurs when the brain develops tangled fibers and plaques, impairing the nerve cells’ connection.

When nerve cells die or lose connection with each other, messages from the brain to other body systems won’t get delivered, causing a person to experience several body function problems.

Over 5 million Americans currently have Alzheimer’s disease, and most of them experience memory problems as its earliest sign. Other early symptoms include:

  • Trouble with spatial figures
  • Problems with language like finding the right words to use
  • Struggling in completing daily living tasks
  • Slow thinking and learning capacity
  • Difficulty in making decisions, especially financially
  • Personality and behavioral changes

Health experts believe that Alzheimer’s stems from several overlapping factors like age, genes, lifestyle, and underlying medical condition.

 

How to Treat Alzheimer’s Disease

Unfortunately, scientists have yet to discover the cure for Alzheimer’s disorder. However, there are plenty of options–both drug and non-drug–that can help manage its symptoms and slow its progression. This includes:

  • Antipsychotic medications to combat behavioral changes
  • Medications for memory improvement
  • Medication for depression and sleeping problems
  • Mind-stimulating activities and therapy
  • Alternative treatments like foods that promote memory enhancement.

 

Alzheimer’s and Dementia Prevention and Awareness

Now that you know the difference between the two terms and how to spot their common signs early on, it is time to learn how to prevent Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Old age may be the number one risk factor, but that does not automatically mean that you have a 100% chance of getting the disease. With the right intervention and awareness, you can live your life free of a frightening health condition like Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Here are some study-based tips on how to prevent these conditions.

  • Regular exercise. According to research, moderate aerobic exercises reduce your chances of getting Alzheimer’s by up to 50%. It is also helpful in slowing the progression of its symptoms if you already have the disease.
  • Practice a Meditteranean diet. This diet focuses on consuming vegetables, herbs, fruits, nuts, whole grains, and other plant-based foods. It helps you stick to a healthy diet free from added sugars, unnecessary carbs, and preservatives.
  • Stay socially and mentally engaged. Mind-stimulating activities like socialization, reading, learning a new skill, or writing keeps the brain cells active, thus maintaining the mind’s sharpness and health. Like human beings, the mind functions well when it is happy, content, and not isolated.
  • Cut-off unhealthy activities. Lifestyle choices impact your vulnerability to Alzheimer’s and dementia. So, lower your risk by saying goodbye to unhealthy vices like smoking, alcohol consumption, and drug use.
  • Quality sleep. A good night’s sleep boosts mind function and aids in protecting the brain from these neurodegenerative disorders. A Harvard study suggested that poor sleep leads to amyloid protein plaque build-up in the brain, which is a definitive sign of Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Stress management. Chronic stress triggers many brain conditions, including Alzheimer’s and dementia. So start engaging in simple anti-stress activities like hanging out with friends, limiting your workload, practicing mindfulness and relaxation techniques, and just staying away from things that heighten your stress level. 


Conclusion

Because of the deteriorating effects, both diseases can have on seniors, special care is encouraged. Seeking a memory care facility near you may be the safest and most beneficial option for your loved one. Senior memory care communities offer around the clock care with certified caregivers on staff at all times. Many communities also offer a variety of activities for seniors to participate in to help stimulate brain function and encourage socialization. 

 

If you are interested in seeking out a memory care community for you or a loved one in the Simi Valley area, feel free to contact us for information about our memory care services.