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Difference Between Dementia and Alzheimer's
By
Lakshmi Jaisimha

 

Ever wondered what is the difference between Dementia and Alzheimer's disease? Some don’t even know what these diseases mean.
 

While some call these as mental conditions, some say they are not. While some say they have a cure, some people say they don’t. Many people believe these cannot be prevented, and some say that learning a second language helps prevent Dementia and Alzheimer's. 


Well, this last point about learning a second language is correct because these diseases are due to cognitive impairment. Using the brain in any way - be it to do calculations or learn a second language will help prevent damage to the brain cells. Thus, helping prevent the disease, for a few years, if not longer.


Still, there’s a lot of confusion about Dementia and Alzheimer's. Their difference is not the only one. That’s why in this article today, we will help you understand both these terms, how they are different and all about Alzheimer's and Dementia in general. Let’s begin!

 

Are Alzheimer's and Dementia the Same Thing?

No, Alzheimer's and Dementia are used interchangeably, but they mean different things. 

Dementia is a syndrome which affects a person’s memory and thinking abilities. Since these are crucial aspects, Dementia ends up affecting a person’s daily life.
 

Alzheimer's is a type of Dementia. 


Dementia or Alzheimer’s do not have a cure. They can however, be managed so that the quality of life isn’t affected much. 


Symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease and Dementia
 

One of the first signs of Alzheimer's disease is short term and recent memory loss. You’ll find the patient asking a lot of questions repeatedly. Plus, they might not give you the right answers to your questions. 


For example, if you ask them if they have taken a bath, they might say yes, even when they have not. However, they don’t do it consciously. It’s because they just don’t remember if they have done that or not.


Apart from short term memory loss, you might notice the following symptoms in the elder with Dementia.

 

  1. Loss of social skills
  2. Finding it difficult to perform day to day activities as they forget how to do them
  3. Behavioural changes - like being aggressive for no reason - verbally and physically
  4. Losing words
  5. Not able to complete the conversations; they forget
  6. Not participating in home activities
     

All of these are warning symptoms. So, you must stay alert around elders and see if they have these signs. It is mostly elders of the age 60 and above who develop the disease of Dementia. Those around the age of 50 might develop Premature Dementia.
 

If you do see more than one symptoms, help the person to get a memory assessment done. That will help with the diagnosis if they have the disease.


Get an opinion from a neurologist and if they are diagnosed, help them get the medications and participate in activities that will help them maintain their quality of life.


There are more symptoms that are different for the various types of Dementia, we’ll discuss them in the next section.


Dementia and Alzheimer's Causes and Risk Factors


Before we discuss the cause, it is necessary to specify what are not the causes. There’s a myth flowing around the globe that Alzheimer's disease or Dementia is a mental illness and is caused by depression.


While depression can be a trigger for Dementia, it is never a direct cause. 


The principal cause is neurological. Dementia is about cognitive impairment. It is due to the degeneration of nerve cells in the brain.


Also, Dementia is not hereditary. That’s another confusion among many people. While you do have the chances of having Dementia if your parent had any kind of neurological condition, it is not 100%. And as generations pass without having a neurological disease, the chances keep reducing for future generations. 


Dementia is also somewhat connected to cardiac issues. Since it is the cardiac system of the body that helps pump blood which then travels to the brain cells. A problem with your heart can imply reduced blood supply to your brain, which means chances of less nourishment and more cognitive impairment. 


So, the risk factors of Dementia include:

  • Advancing age
  • Dementia in your family
  • Illnesses including diabetes, down syndrome, heart disease
  • Stress and depression
  • Long-time alcohol or drug use
  • Traumatic brain injuries


Understanding Alzheimer's Disease and Other Dementias 

Still, confused about what is the difference between Dementia and Alzheimer's disease? 
Well, in simple words, Dementia is the umbrella term which has many types. Alzheimer's disease is just one type. Read on to understand all the types and you will also get more clarity on your question. 
 

1. Alzheimer’s Disease:


It is a progressive disease which affects the brain by destroying memory region. It also affects social life.

Cause: 

  • It is caused by an abnormal build-up of proteins in and around brain cells.


Symptoms:

  • Affected vision and language
  • Challenges in solving problems
  • Difficulty in completing familiar tasks
  • Confusion with time or place
  • Misplacing things
  • Change in mood or personality
     

Preventive measures:

  • Exercise regularly
  • Take a healthy and balanced diet
  • Engage in social activities
  • Sleep well
  • Reduce stress


Treatment:

  • There is no cure, but it can be managed with proper medication and some management activities like
  • Letting the patient take their time to complete any task.
  • Not doing things for them. We must only assist them to do their tasks.
  • Creating a safe environment for the elder with Alzheimer's.

 

2. Vascular Dementia:

This Dementia is about the issues with the brain’s parts associated with reasoning, planning, judgment, memory and other thought processes. It usually happens after a stroke blocks an artery in the brain.

Cause:

  • Brain damage from impaired blood flow to your brain.

Symptoms:

  • Confusion
  • Reduced ability to organise thoughts or actions
  • Problems with memory
  • Depression 
  • Difficulty deciding what to tasks to do next
  • Restlessness and agitation
  • Frequent urge to go to the toilet

 

Preventive measures:

  • Maintain a healthy blood pressure
  • Prevent or control diabetes
  • Quit smoking
  • Get physical exercise
  • Keep cholesterol in check
  • Avoid alcohol


Treatment:
 

  • Medicines to treat cholesterol and diabetes
  • Medicine to treat blood clots
  • Occupational therapy
  • Music therapy
  • Physiotherapy
  • Social interaction

 

3. Lewy Body Dementia:

This Dementia is the 2nd most progressive disease after Alzheimer's disease.
 

Cause: 

  • Abnormal protein build-up (Lewy bodies) in the brain parts which are associated with memory, thinking, and movement.


Symptoms:

  • Visual hallucinations
  • Movement disorders
  • Fluctuating attention
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Cognitive problems
  • Poor regulation of body functions

  
Treatment:

  • Physiotherapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Psychotherapy
  • A proper amount of sleep regularly
  • Proper medication with doctor’s consultation


4. Frontotemporal Dementia:


It is a term that implies a group of uncommon brain issues which mainly affect the frontal and temporal lobes of your brain. These areas are associated with personality, behaviour and language.

Unlike other Dementias, it also affects people of younger ages.
 

Cause:

  • Abnormal protein build-up at frontal and temporal lobes of the brain.

 

Symptoms:

  • Being not willing to talk
  • Change in mood
  • Behaving obsessively about something 
  • Eating for no reason, which leads to weight gain.

 

Preventive measures:

  • Physical exercise
  • Healthy diet
  • Meditation
  • Avoiding head injury
  • Socialising

 

Treatment:

  • Antidepressants
  • Antipsychotics
  • Speech and language therapy
  • Physiotherapy
  • Occupational therapy

 

5. Mixed Dementia:


It is a type of disease where more than one Dementia occurs simultaneously in the brain.
It is usually associated with Alzheimer's and vascular Dementia.

 

Cause: 

  • Brain damage caused by multiple strokes.


Symptoms:

  • Difficulty in completing tasks
  • Poor judgement and problem-solving skills
  • Difficult to recognise people or items
  • Memory loss
  • Depression
  • Change in mood or personality
  • Restlessness and agitation

 

Preventive measures:

  • Quit smoking
  • Avoid alcohol consumption
  • Eat healthily
  • Keeping an active mind
  • Exercise regularly
  • Adequate sleep
  • Socially active

 

Treatment:

  • Medication: Cholinesterase inhibitors- boost levels of a chemical in the brain that helps cells communicate with each other.
  • Physiotherapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Counselling sessions
  • Music and dance therapy
  • Speech and language therapy


What Can the Caregiver Do for the Person With Dementia?

 

1. Understand and accept that they have a disease.


The elder with Dementia may ask a lot of questions again and again. They might not do their tasks, even something like bathing. The caregiver needs to understand them and not get irritated with their behaviour.


As a caregiver, you should keep yourself calm and composed. If you have the mental capacity to answer their questions, do that. Otherwise, just distract them to do something else. Maybe they could play with your child or take the dog for a walk. 


Do not get irritated and say anything that can affect their confidence.

 

2. Make the whole family a part of the caregiving.


Whatever plans are made in the family, should be done by keeping in mind the condition of the elder with Dementia.


It’s not just the responsibility of the professional caregiver to handle the elder. All adults and even children in the family can take charge of helping the elder lead life peacefully even with the disease.


The whole family must ensure that the elder is always comfortable. 


The family can perform various activities together. A great example is of listening to the elder’s stories, be it of the present or past. 


This will take care of the memory that is left behind and will stimulate those brain cells. 


Also, keep giving the elder a tight hug now and then. Let them know they are not alone, the family is there for them.


Keep a tab on the food they eat as well. It should be highly nourishing and the elder should love having it. 

 

3. Take control


You might notice any behavioural changes as part of the disease. For example, the elder might get aggressive. 


Do not normalise this. There's always a reason behind everything. 


Dr Manreet Kahlon, Chief of Customer Relationships at Emoha Elder Care says “An agitation is a form of communication.”


Since most elders lose out on words and their ability to speak properly, they find it difficult to express themselves. But no matter what, the amped-up emotions inside any human needs to be let out. And that’s necessary for them too.


So, as a caregiver, you should just figure out what is the root cause of their agitation. What is it they want to communicate? Maybe they didn’t like some changes in the environment or some new person around. 


They might just snap at any time and may not be able to express what they exactly want. Yes, this can be something as simple as being thirsty and snapping about something else in the house. The sole reason being, they have forgotten they are thirsty or how to express it.


So, what should you do? Keep a tab on when they get agitated. Note down the patterns. Eventually, you might find that it is the wrong temperature of the room, or an ulcer, or anything for that matter, that is irritating them.


Also, never make them feel bad about what they say or do, or can’t say or do. Just help them stay independent and confident so that they feel upbeat about doing stuff. If they do simple tasks regularly, they won’t forget them soon.


For All These, a Caregiver Must Have Certain Qualities.

  • As a caregiver, you must be 
  • A good listener
  • Empathetic
  • Obedient to follow the care plan
  • Patient
  • Humble 
  • Assertive as and when required
  • Stress-free


The last point is worth mentioning. Stress can take away all your energy to handle the elder and that may make things worse for both you and them. 


So, never let stress take over you. Talk things out with your family. Do not keep your thoughts and emotions inside, as they may pile up and eventually lead to chaos.


Wrapping Up


Now that you know what is the difference between Dementia and Alzheimer's disease, and the care basics of Dementia, it is time to take action. 


If any elder around you seems to have any symptoms or is already diagnosed with the disease, stay compassionate and patient around them. 


See if they need a caregiver, as most adults in families aren’t able to find enough time for the elder with Dementia.


If they do need a professional caregiver, you can contact us at 1800-123-44-5555. Our trained professionals will do their best to keep these patients happy and prevent their condition from degrading.
 

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