The terms Alzheimer’s and Dementia are sometimes used interchangeably. Dementia is a general term and has many types, of which Alzheimer’s is one.
Dementia is a general term for symptoms relating to memory loss and other cognitive abilities such as forgetfulness and confusion, which are serious enough to interfere with daily life. They also affect behavior, feelings and relationships.
Dementia includes more specific conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, traumatic brain injury, and others, which can cause these symptoms.
In its early stages, dementia can cause symptoms such as change in mood, confused sense of direction, changes in short-term memory, being repetitive, reaching for the right words and having a hard time accepting change. Other symptoms include struggling to follow story lines, loss of interest, confusion and difficulty in completing daily tasks.
Normally, dementia tends to get worse over time, and even though it progresses differently in everyone, most patients experience these stages:
Mild Cognitive Impairment, MCI, which is common with older individuals. They experience forgetfulness, trouble recalling words, and short-term memory problems, but it may never progress to dementia or other mental impairments.
Mild dementia, whose symptoms include short-term memory lapses, misplacing things or forgetfulness, personality changes- including anger or depression, struggling to express emotions or ideas and difficulty with complex tasks or problem solving.
With moderate dementia, patients may require assistance from others because symptoms at this stage interfere with daily activities. They include significant personality changes, poor judgment, memory loss that reaches further into the past, increasing confusion and frustration, as well as needing help with tasks like dressing and bathing.
Severe dementia, which is the late stage, symptoms include inability to maintain bodily functions, including walking and eventually swallowing and controlling bladder, inability to communicate, increased risk for infections- all which require full-time assistance.
Dementia is caused by damage to brain cells, which interferes with the ability of brain cells to communicate with each other. When brain cells cannot communicate normally, thinking, behavior and feelings can be affected.
The brain has many distinct regions, each of which is responsible for different functions like memory and judgment. When cells in a particular region are damaged, that region cannot carry out its functions normally.
The most common types of dementia include:
Alzheimer’s disease, which is the most common type, making up 60 to 80 per cent of dementia cases.
Vascular dementia: This is the second most common type of dementia. It occurs because of microscopic bleeding and blood vessel blockage in the brain.
Parkinson’s disease: Individuals with advanced Parkinson’s disease may develop dementia. Symptoms of this particular type of dementia include problems with reasoning and judgment, as well as increased irritability, paranoia, and depression.
Lewy body dementia: Protein deposits in nerve cells prevent the brain from sending chemical signals. This results in lost messages, delayed reactions, and memory loss.
A person’s chances of developing dementia may be increased by: lack of education, hearing loss, midlife hypertension and obesity, social isolation, smoking, diabetes and physical inactivity.
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, accounting for 60 to 80 per cent of cases.
Causes & Risk Factors
Age: Most people who develop Alzheimer’s disease are 65 years of age or older.
Family history: Having an immediate family member who has developed the condition means you are more likely to get it.
Genetics: Certain genes have been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
Just like dementia, people with Alzheimer’s disease display certain ongoing behaviors and symptoms that worsen over time.
These can include: memory loss affecting daily activities, trouble with familiar tasks, trouble with speech or writing, decreased judgment, mood and personality changes, decreased personal hygiene, difficulties with problem-solving becoming disoriented about times or places and withdrawal from friends, family, and community.
This progressive condition is broken down into seven stages:
Stage 1- No symptoms at this stage but there might be an early diagnosis based on family history.
Stage 2- Earliest symptoms, such as forgetfulness, appear.
Stage 3- Mild physical and mental impairments appear, such as reduced memory and concentration. These may only be noticeable by someone very close to the person.
Stage 4- Alzheimer’s is often diagnosed at this stage, but it’s still considered mild. Memory loss and the inability to perform everyday tasks is evident.
Stage 5- Moderate to severe symptoms require help from loved ones or caregivers.
Stage 6- Here, a person with Alzheimer’s may need help with basic tasks, such as eating and putting on clothes.
Stage 7- This is the most severe and final stage of Alzheimer’s. There may be a loss of speech and facial expressions.
Alzheimer’s and Dementia Testing, Diagnosis & Treatment
No single test can confirm any of the two diagnoses. Instead, a thorough medical and family history, a careful physical exam, a review of symptoms, including changes in memory, behavior, and brain function and laboratory tests, including blood tests, are used by medical providers.
Treatments for dementia depend on the type you have. However, Alzheimer’s treatments often overlap with other non-pharmacological dementia treatments.
In the case of some types of dementia, treating the underlying cause may be helpful in reducing or stopping the memory and behavior problems. However, that is not the case with Alzheimer’s.