Having noticed an aging parent having trouble remembering names, misplacing things, or perhaps see an overall change in mood, you might wonder if Mom or Dad has dementia… or do I mean Alzheimer’s… or are they the same thing? Often the terms are used interchangeably, but what is the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s?

This question is commonly heard from family members taking care of an elder loved one. The answer is that Alzheimer’s and dementia are two different things. Just like every Jacuzzi is a hot tub, but not every hot tub is a Jacuzzi, every Alzheimer’s patient has dementia, but not every dementia patient has Alzheimer’s.

What is Dementia?

Dementia is a syndrome, not a disease. It is the name for several different brain disorders that affect brain function.

A person must have trouble with at least two of the following functions to receive a diagnosis of dementia:

  • Memory
  • Communication and speech
  • Focus and concentration
  • Reasoning and judgment

Visual perception dementia happens when specific brain cells are damaged. A variety of things can cause damage, including progressive brain cell death (the cause of Alzheimer’s), head injury, stroke, brain tumor, infections, chronic drug use, and more.

Types of Dementia

There are several different types of dementia:

  • Vascular Dementia
  • Dementia with Lewy Bodies
  • Mixed Dementia
  • Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD)
  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD)
  • Huntington’s Disease
  • Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus (NPH) – For more information, see Is It Dementia? Maybe Not
  • Alzheimer’s – The most common type of dementia

Although it is more likely to develop dementia as one gets older, however, it is not a normal part of aging. Dementia affects approximately 50 million people worldwide.

It is not hard to miss some of the early signs of dementia, but the symptoms will worsen over time. Eventually, someone with dementia may not be able to care for themselves.

Also, many of the symptoms of the different types of dementia (Alzheimer’s, etc.) are similar. This overlap can make it difficult for doctors to make an accurate diagnosis; however, a correct diagnosis is vital for effective treatment and management when Caring for Someone with Dementia.

What is Alzheimer’s?

Out of all the types of dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common, affecting 60 to 80% of individuals with dementia. The disease affects memory, language, and thought processes.  It happens when abnormal protein deposits form proteins (plaques) and fibers (tangles) build-up on the brain. These changes block nerve signals and destroy nerve cells. The damage begins years before the onset of symptoms.

The Alzheimer’s Association says Alzheimer’s “probably develops as a result of complex interactions among multiple factors, including age, genetics, environment, lifestyle, and coexisting medical conditions.” There are specific genes that can cause someone to be more likely to develop Alzheimer’s; however, genes are not the only factor.

Alzheimer’s typically affects people over 65. It is a progressive condition and currently has no cure. A person diagnosed with Alzheimer’s has an estimated lifespan of four to eight years, but some live with the disease for twenty years. There are about 6 million people in America who are currently living with Alzheimer’s, and that figure is projected to grow significantly to nearly 14 million by 2050.

The only way to definitively diagnose a patient with Alzheimer’s is through an autopsy, however, tests of a person’s memory, attention, language, and an MRI can provide an accurate diagnosis 90% of the time.

Alzheimer’s Disease Signs and Symptoms

These are the Top Ten Warning Signs and Symptoms of those with Alzheimer’s:

  1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life
  2. Challenges planning or solving problems
  3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks
  4. Confusion with time or place
  5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
  6. Problems with words
  7. Misplacing things
  8. Decreased or poor judgment
  9. Withdrawal from social activities
  10. Changes in mood and personality

While Alzheimer’s is NOT curable, the Alzheimer’s Association offers these treatments to manage the disease:

  • Medications for memory
  • Treatments for behavior such as identifying the cause and changing the environment
  • Treatments for sleep changes such as medications, maintaining regular schedules, and treating pain
  • Alternative remedies that boost brain function and overall health

Also, read about Tips for Caregivers on Managing Alzheimer’s Mood Swings

Each year on June 21 – the longest day of the year – thousands of people around the world will fight the darkness of Alzheimer’s. To learn more about this one-day event, visit their website: Longest Day.

Local Help for a Worldwide Problem

Like those around the world, many of our clients and their families are dealing with Alzheimer’s and the effects of this horrible disease. Caring for someone with any form of dementia can be challenging because as the disease progresses, you start hearing the same story told again and again, you have to repeat yourself because they can not remember things for more than a few minutes, you may have to help them with simple, everyday chores, and so much more. Despite the challenges, more than 16 million Americans provide unpaid care for people with dementia, which can put a significant strain on finances, family relationships, and the health of those caretakers.

The caregivers with Hibernian Home Care are trained to care for individuals with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia and can help ease some of the burdens. We offer assistance through a variety of Memory and Specialty Care Services. Please, reach out to us via our Contact Us Form or by phone at 732-481-1148 to schedule a complimentary consultation with our Certified Case Manager who is also a Registered Nurse. Having a professional caregiver, even if just for a few hours a day up to around the clock can make a world of difference.