Dementia & Alzheimer's Disease
What’s the difference between Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia?
Dementia is an overall term for a set of symptoms that are caused by disorders affecting the brain.
Symptoms may include:
memory loss and difficulties with thinking,
problem-solving or language, severe enough to reduce a person's ability to perform everyday activities.
A person with dementia may also experience changes in mood or behaviour.
Dementia is progressive, which means the symptoms will gradually get worse as more brain cells become damaged and eventually die.
Dementia is not a specific disease. Many diseases can cause dementia, including Alzheimer's disease, vascular dementia (due to strokes), Lewy Body disease, head trauma, fronto-temporal dementia, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Huntington’s disease. These conditions can have similar and overlapping symptoms.
Alzheimer's disease is irreversible and destroys brain cells, causing thinking ability and memory to deteriorate. Alzheimer's disease is not a normal part of aging.
What is Alzheimer’s disease?
Dr. Alois Alzheimer first identified the disease in 1906. He described the two hallmarks of the disease: "plaques," which are numerous tiny, dense deposits scattered throughout the brain that become toxic to brain cells at excessive levels, and "tangles," which interfere with vital processes, eventually choking off the living cells. When brain cells degenerate and die, the brain markedly shrinks in some regions.
Alzheimer’s disease is a fatal disease that eventually affects all aspects of a person’s life: how they think, feel, and act. Each person is affected differently. It is difficult to predict symptoms, the order in which they will appear, or the speed of their progression.
The following are some of the changes you may expect as the disease progresses.
Cognitive and functional abilities: a person’s ability to understand, think, remember and communicate will be affected. This could impact a person’s ability to make decisions, perform simple tasks, or follow a conversation. Sometimes people lose their way, or experience confusion and memory loss, initially for recent events and eventually for long-term events.
Emotions and moods: a person may appear apathetic and lose interest in favourite hobbies. Some people become less expressive and withdrawn.
Behaviour: a person may have reactions that seem out of character. Some common reactions include repeating the same action or words, hiding possessions, physical outbursts and restlessness.
Physical abilities: the disease can affect a person’s coordination and mobility, to the point of affecting their ability to perform day-to-day tasks such as eating, bathing and getting dressed.
There are several medications that can help with symptoms such as memory decline, changes in language, thinking abilities and motor skills. Although there is still no cure for Alzheimer's disease, those who respond to these treatments can experience improvements in their quality of life for several years.
If you have been confused by these terms in the past, or mistakenly thought that they were the same thing, watch the video:
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Check out the Alzheimer Society of Canada