Do you get confused when people use these terms? Alzheimer’s and Dementia are interchangeably used so much these days that one can easy mistaken it to have the same meaning. Well, it’s not. While one may form a part of the other, but Alzheimer’s and Dementia are not the same. Here’s an analogy to help to understand and decipher the difference between the two medical terms.
A quick analogy for illustration
Say one day you cough and sneeze a lot but you are unsure why. Since it’s summer you don’t have a cold. So you go to the doctor for a checkup. The doctor checks your breathing and orders a series of tests to help decide the cause. After the test results come in, the doctor is sure what is causing the sneezes. The diagnosis is that you have developed an allergy. It’s the summer and the most common allergy could be due to pollen in the air, etc.
Are you wondering where Alzheimer’s and Dementia come into play here? Well, perhaps you want to read the illustration again because the allergy is the diagnosis – which is dementia. A cough and sneeze are symptoms like memory loss and we’ll talk more about it in a just a bit. The pollen or one cause for dementia is the Alzheimer’s disease. Go ahead, read the analogy again to get a fair idea.
Why it’s important to know the difference
Dementia impacts memory, performance to do things, and communication. Alzheimer’s is a degenerative disease that affects memory and language and gets worse with time. The symptoms, causes and the effects of both Alzheimer’s and Dementia are different. It’s important that you know the difference for management and treatment of the two degenerative diseases. Let’s get to know them one by one.
Dementia is the umbrella term
First, dementia is a syndrome which is a bunch of symptoms. Dementia affects the brain and attacks memory and reasoning of the individual. It is an umbrella under which the Alzheimer’s disease falls. Alzheimer’s is one of the most common causes for the development of dementia. Not the other way around.
There are many types of dementia because it may stem from different causes. No matter the cause, as dementia progresses, it becomes increasingly difficult for an individual to function independently. Although young people can develop dementia, it’s one of the biggest concerns for the elderly. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are over 47 million people affected by dementia all over the world. and Indian houses close to 4.1 million of them. These numbers are expected to double every two decades.
What are the symptoms and causes of dementia?
It is hard to know the symptoms at first because they are not easily seen. You forget where you put the keys or if you have turned off the gas or to switch off the geyser. It starts with simple forgetfulness that seems like an everyday thing. Those having dementia seem to lose track of time.
With time, as the forgetfulness increases so does confusion. People struggle with remembering names and connect faces and eventually, show obvious signs when personal hygiene becomes a problem too. Some of the symptoms of dementia include:
- Asking same questions repeatedly
- Questionable hygiene
- Poor skills for decision-making
- Difficulty in recalling names and recognising faces
Dementia is more likely to occur with age and one of the leading causes if damaged brain cells which are caused by diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s. Around 70% of dementia is caused by Alzheimer’s. Other causes include HIV, stroke, depression or drugs.
There is no known cure for the Alzheimer’s disease and the exact cause it yet to be determined. This is a progressive disease wherein; the damaged cells in the brain impair memory and cognitive function. The symptoms of Alzheimer’s are seen after the age of 60 years, although even young people get it too. When it occurs in the elderly, it can be fatal almost within three years of the diagnoses. For young people, it may take longer.
While there is memory and cognitive loss even with the Alzheimer’s disease, just as in dementia, there are other symptoms, which include:
- Struggle to recall events and conversations
- Struggle to speak, swallow and walking
Since dementia may have multiple causes such as chronic drug use, stroke, tumor metabolic or thyroid disorders, the treatment of these cases is likely to go well. These are reversible causes. However, irreversible dementia has not treatment to help stop it or cure it.
For Alzheimer’s there is no known treatment. But some antipsychotic medication, pills for memory, sleep, and depression may help the symptoms to be manageable. However, Alzheimer’s is a terminal illness. Depending on the age, the time to death may vary. Some young people live with Alzheimer’s for two decades, others older than 80 years may die within three years of diagnoses.
If you are not sure about the symptoms you or your loved ones may have, speak to your doctor. Getting on the right treatment plan will help you manage the symptoms better.