The Difference Between Alzheimer’s and Dementia can be hard to spot, here’s how to tell what stage your loved one is in.
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is a disease of the nerves that get worse over time and causes brain cells to die and the brain itself to shrink. Alzheimer’s disease affects about 5.8 million people 65 and older in the United States. Most of them are at least 75 years old and I t is thought that between 60% and 70% of the 50 million people that struggle with dementia in the world have Alzheimer’s disease.
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease
Loss of memory is the key symptom of Alzheimer’s disease, and one of the first signs is having trouble remembering recent conversations or events. As the disease gets worse, memory problems get worse and new symptoms show up. At first, a person with Alzheimer’s disease might notice that they have trouble remembering things and putting their thoughts in order. If the symptoms get worse, it may be more likely that a family member or friend will notice. Changes in the brain caused by Alzheimer’s lead to more trouble with:
Everyone forgets things sometimes, but Alzheimer’s disease causes memory loss that lasts and gets worse, making it hard to do things at work or home. Alzheimer’s patients may:
- Repeat statements and questions over and over
- Forget conversations, appointments, or events, and not remember them later
- Routinely misplace possessions, often putting them in illogical locations
- Get lost in familiar places
- Eventually, forget the names of family members and everyday objects
- Have trouble finding the right words to identify objects, express thoughts, or take part in conversations
Thinking and Reasoning
Alzheimer’s disease makes it hard to focus and think, especially about things like numbers that are not concrete. It’s hard to do more than one thing at once, and it can be hard to manage money, balance checkbooks, and pay bills on time, and eventually, someone with Alzheimer’s may be unable to recognize and deal with numbers.
Alzheimer’s makes it harder to make decisions and judgments that make sense in everyday situations. For instance, a person may act in ways that aren’t like them in social situations or wear clothes that aren’t right for the weather. It may be harder to solve everyday problems like food burning on the stove or getting into an accident while driving.
Planning and Performing Everyday Tasks
As the disease gets worse, things that used to be easy but now require a series of steps, like planning and cooking a meal or playing a favorite game, become hard. People with advanced Alzheimer’s often forget how to do simple things like getting dressed and taking a bath.
Changes in Personality and Behavior
Changes in the brain caused by Alzheimer’s disease can affect how a person feels and acts. Some of the problems could be:
- Social withdrawal
- Mood swings
- Distrust in others
- Irritability and aggressiveness
- Changes in sleeping habits
- Loss of inhibitions
- Delusions, such as believing something has been stolen
Preservation of Skills
Even as symptoms get worse, many important skills are kept for a longer period of time. Some ways to keep skills alive are to read or listen to books, tell stories and talk about the past, sing, listen to music, dance, draw, or make crafts. Because these skills are run by parts of the brain that are affected later in the disease, they may last longer.
What is Dementia?
Dementia is a term for a group of symptoms that affect memory, thinking, and social skills so much that they get in the way of everyday life. Dementia is not a specific disease, but it can be caused by more than one. Memory loss is often a sign of dementia, but it can also be caused by other things. Even though memory loss is often one of the first signs of dementia, it doesn’t mean that you have dementia itself.
What are the Symptoms of Dementia?
The signs and symptoms of dementia depend on what’s causing it, but commonly these include:
- Memory loss, which is usually noticed by someone else
- Difficulty communicating or finding words
- Difficulty with visual and spatial abilities, such as getting lost while driving
- Difficulty reasoning or problem-solving
- Difficulty handling complex tasks
- Difficulty with planning and organizing
- Difficulty with coordination and motor functions
- Confusion and disorientation
- Personality changes
- Inappropriate behavior
Alzheimer’s disease and most other forms of dementia can’t be cured. When treating a disease, doctors try to ease the symptoms and slow the progression of the disease to reduce the risk of the disease getting worse. Some treatments for Alzheimer’s help with dementia as well:
- Cholinesterase inhibitors can help with memory loss in certain types of dementia and Alzheimer’s
- Glutamate inhibitors help with learning and memory in both dementia and Alzheimer’s
- Sleep medications may help with sleep changes
- Antidepressants can help with depression symptoms
- Antipsychotic medications may help with behavior changes
Depending on what caused the dementia, some types of dementia can be treated. Your doctor may suggest that you:
- Stopping the use of drugs and alcohol
- Treating a B12 deficiency if you have one
- Treating hydrocephalus, or extra fluid on the brain
- Getting your blood sugar under control
Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia, What’s the Difference?
Alzheimer’s is a specific disease, while dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability that is bad enough to get in the way of daily life. Most people with dementia have Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia and is characterized by dementia-like symptoms that get worse over time and first affect the part of the brain that is responsible for learning, so the first signs are often changes in memory, thinking, and reasoning.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia in older adults who are getting worse over time, but there are other things that can cause dementia as well. Depending on what caused the dementia, some of the symptoms might be able to go away.
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