Alzheimer’s and Dementia are common conditions among seniors. The two conditions are often confused because of their somewhat similar symptoms. But they are quite different.

Understanding the type of condition one is suffering from is critical in providing care and understanding their challenges. Here is a quick look at the differences between dementia and Alzheimer’s.

What is Dementia?

Dementia is not a disease, but a syndrome. A syndrome is described as a group of symptoms that don’t have a definitive diagnosis. In the case of dementia, these symptoms affect cognitive mental functions like reasoning and memory. Usually, Alzheimer’s disease can fall under dementia.

A person can suffer from more than one type of dementia, which is known as mixed dementia. People suffering from mixed dementia have multiple conditions contributing to dementia. This type of condition is only confirmed through an autopsy.

There’s no known cure for dementia, and the symptoms cannot be reversed either. The condition deteriorates over time, making it impossible for the patient to function independently.

Symptoms of Dementia

Dementia symptoms are mild at the beginning. They are often overlooked as simple episodes of forgetfulness. As the condition progresses, people with dementia can have trouble keeping track of time and will lose their way in a familiar setting.

Forgetfulness and confusion grow as the condition progresses. It becomes harder to recall faces and names, and eventually, personal hygiene becomes a challenge.

Some tell-tale signs of dementia include poor decision-making, inadequate hygiene and repetitive questions.

In the advanced stages of the syndrome, patients will struggle more with keeping time, remembering familiar people and places, and will be unable to care for themselves. Often, this behaviour can turn into aggression and depression.

Causes of Dementia

Age is the greatest risk factor for developing dementia. There are also many conditions that can cause dementia, most commonly degenerative diseases like Huntington’s, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. The syndrome is most likely to occur when specific brain cells are damaged.

The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s, which accounts for about 50 to 70% of dementia cases. Other possible causes of dementia include:

  • Stroke
  • Chronic drug use
  • Infections like HIV
  • Vascular diseases
  • Depression

What is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Unlike dementia, which is a group of symptoms that impact memory negatively, Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease of the brain that causes deterioration and impairment in cognitive and memory functions.

The exact cause and cure for Alzheimer’s are not currently known. Most of the people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease are seniors with symptoms starting after 60 years. However, it’s also possible for your people to suffer from this condition as well.

For people over 80 years, the time from diagnosis to death can be as little as three years, but in younger patients, the period is longer.

Effects of Alzheimer’s on the Brain

Alzheimer’s can cause damage to the brain long before the symptoms present themselves. Some of the effects of Alzheimer’s include the formation of plaques and tangles in the brain, loss of connection between cells, which eventually begin to die, and in advanced cases, there’s significant shrinkage of the brain.

Confirmation of Alzheimer’s is almost impossible when the person is alive. It requires observation of the brain tissue under a microscope, which is done during an autopsy. But based on the symptoms and previous experiences, doctors can make the correct diagnosis most of the time.

Comparison of Dementia and Alzheimer’s Symptoms

Both conditions share some symptoms like:

  • Reduced ability to think
  • Memory impairment
  • Communication impairment

Alzheimer’s symptoms include:

  • Apathy
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty remembering recent conversations or events
  • Impaired judgment
  • Behavioural changes
  • Disorientation
  • Depression
  • In advanced stages, difficulty walking, swallowing, or speaking.

Some types of dementia can exhibit similar symptoms. However, this differs depending on the type of dementia, which helps to make the diagnosis. Some conditions like Lewy Body Dementia share the same advanced stage symptoms as Alzheimer’s but have very different initial symptoms, including balance difficulties, visual hallucinations, and sleep disturbance.

Another common differential symptom for people with dementia due to Huntington’s and Parkinson’s disease is involuntary movement in the early stages.

Alzheimer’s treatment

There’s no cure for Alzheimer’s, but there are treatment options that help to manage the symptoms of the condition. Some of the available treatment options are:

  • Antipsychotics to manage behavioural changes.
  • Cholinesterase inhibitors to manage memory loss and other similar medications.
  • Coconut oil, fish oil and other alternative options to boost brain health and function.
  • Medication for depression.
  • Sleep management medication.

Dementia treatment

With dementia, the approach is to treat the condition that is causing dementia. As such, the treatment options here can vary widely. Some of the conditions causing dementia that can respond to treatment include:

  • Hypoglycaemia
  • Tumours
  • Metabolic disorders
  • Drug use

Although dementia isn’t reversible, most forms of dementia are treatable, and you can get treatment to help manage dementia.

Cholinesterase inhibitors are prescribed for patients with dementia as a result of Parkinson’s and LBD.

For vascular dementia, the treatment focuses on preventing more damage to the blood vessels in the brain and also preventing stroke. Health aides assisted living facilities and nursing homes are also possible options as the disease advances.

The Fate of Dementia and Alzheimer’s Patients

For dementia patients, the outlook depends on the cause of dementia. Some conditions like Parkinson’s are manageable, but there’s no way to stop or slow down the progression of dementia. Vascular dementia can be slowed down in some cases. But it will still shorten a person’s lifespan.

Most types of dementia are irreversible, but some are reversible. Irreversible symptoms continue to progress and cause more impairment over time.

Alzheimer’s is a terminal condition with no known cure. The condition progresses in three stages, and the length in each stage varies. On average, an Alzheimer’s patient has a lifespan four to eight years after the diagnosis. However, some patients can live up to 20 years with proper care and medical attention.