Alzheimer’s and Dementia are often used synonymously, but in reality, have very different meanings.
Dementia is the term used to define a condition (a collective group of symptoms) that adversely affects memory, but Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that slowly deteriorates memory and cognitive function of the brain. Alzheimer’s is a particular disease, dementia is not. At present, there is no "cure" for dementia.
There are many different types of dementia, and Alzheimer’s is one of those many conditions that cause it. Alzheimer’s accounts for 60-80% of dementia cases.
Symptoms of Dementia and Alzheimer's
Umbrella symptoms of dementia can cause a decline in a person's ability to perform everyday activities independently. These include:
- Loss of memory
- Trouble processing thoughts
- Poor judgment
- Inability to focus
- Difficulties in solving the problem
- Changes in mood/behavior
- Increased errors in communication
Alzheimer's disease may have almost similar symptoms to that of other types of dementia, but there may be some differences.
For example- The effects of vascular dementia (explained in the section below) may be decelerated, but it will still diminish the person's life expectancy. Only a few types of dementia are reversible, but most of them have no cure and the brain functionality will weaken eventually.
Different types and causes of dementia
- Vascular dementia
- Lewy body dementia
- Frontotemporal dementia
- Mixed dementia
1} Alzheimer's- Patients suffering from Alzheimer's have clumps of protein (beta-amyloid) in their brains. These protein fibers tangle and damage healthy neurons. It can occur at the age of as early as 30.
2} Vascular dementia- This disease arises when there is damage to the vessels. Such damage leads to issues in the blood circulation and causes strokes or affects the brain in other ways. Vascular dementia can cause difficulties with problem-solving, slowed thinking, and loss of organizational skills. They are noticeable than memory loss.
3} Lewy body dementia- Lewy bodies are unusual balloon-like clumps of protein that cause dysfunction like- weird dreams, hallucinations, and issues with focus and attention. The slow movement, tremors, and, Parkinsonism are other symptoms that may occur due to this condition.
4} Frontotemporal dementia- This is a cluster of diseases where the connection of nerve cells breaks in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. These cells are linked with personality, behavior, and communication. It also affects the movements of the body.
5} Mixed dementia- Mixed dementia is a condition in which brain changes of more than one type of dementia occur simultaneously.
Patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s have an estimated lifespan of approx. 4 to 8 years, but some people can live with Alzheimer’s for up to 20 years if proper care is provided. While there is no cure (terminal disease) for Alzheimer’s but the following can help manage symptoms of the disease:
- Antipsychotics for behavioral changes
- Medicines like Aricept for memory loss
- Therapies to boost brain functioning
- Diet changes for better sleep
- Therapies and medication for depression
In some cases like tumors, metabolic disorders, hypoglycemia, treatment for dementia can be of help but they are not reversible. Some dementia may be reversible also termed pseudo-dementia, mostly when the cause is vitamin imbalance or depression. Caregivers and other aid services can slow down the progression of the condition. As stated earlier, treatment may be able to delay further damage like strokes. The treatment also depends entirely on the cause of dementia.
Starting treatment at the right time can help manage symptoms of Dementia and Alzheimer's. Seek professional help if you are facing issues with reminiscing/memory, or if a loved one has started having behavioral problems (all of a sudden) or other dementia symptoms. The earlier the treatment, the better off that person can be!