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Understanding the Difference Between Alzheimer's and Dementia

As part of our month-long series for Alzheimer's Awareness Month, today's blog will focus on what dementia and Alzheimer's disease are and how they differ.


The term "dementia" is a broad one as it describes a set of symptoms that are caused by disorders affecting the brain and does not refer to a specific disease.

Symptoms may include memory loss, changes in mood, and difficulties with thinking, problem solving, and language.

According to the Alzheimer Society, dementia is caused when the brain is damaged by diseases or a series of strokes. Many diseases can cause dementia, with Alzheimer's being the most common.


Contrary to popular belief, dementia is not a normal part of aging. In fact, there are differences between the symptoms of normal aging and dementia - specifically, the severity in which the symptoms present themselves.


Normal Aging

Dementia

Forgetting events from a year ago

Forgetting details from recent events

Becoming lost occasionally

Becoming lost frequently or in familiar places

Occasionally struggling to find words

Frequently pausing and using substitutions when trying to find words

Able to speak clearly and well

Increase in slurred speech and other language problems

Predictable and stable moods

Unpredictable changes in mood and behaviour

Able to follow and participate in conversations

Difficulty in following or participating in conversations; frequent repetition of questions and stories

Ability to perform everyday tasks like paying bills and shopping

Difficulty with remembering to do everyday tasks, like paying bills or shopping

*Table adapted from alzheimer.ca

Dementia vs Alzheimer's Disease


Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia and both terms can often be used interchangeably. It is always important to note that Alzheimer's is a specific disease, while dementia is a general term for a group of similar diseases, such as:

  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease

  • Dementia with Lewy bodies

  • Frontotemporal dementia

  • Mixed dementia

  • Vascular dementia, the second most common type

These conditions may have similar symptoms that can overlap and can be explained by the area of the brain each type of dementia affects.

In other words, every case of Alzheimer's disease is an example of dementia, but not every type of dementia is Alzheimer's.

Symptoms of dementia include memory loss (both long-term and short-term), and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving, or with language that are severe enough to reduce a person's ability to perform everyday tasks. Dementia also includes changes in mood or behaviour. There may be signs of disorientation to time and place, impaired judgment, and loss of initiative.


An individual diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, where symptoms overlap with other types of dementia, may present symptoms differently as its effects encompass 4 major areas: Cognitive and Functional abilities, Emotions and moods, Physical abilities, and Behaviour, as described below from the Alzheimer Society:


Cognitive and functional abilities

  • A person’s ability to understand, think, remember and communicate will be affected. This could impact a person’s ability to make decisions, perform simple tasks or follow a conversation.

  • Sometimes people lose their way, or experience confusion and memory loss. Initially, this happens only for recent events, but eventually affects memory of long-term events too.

Emotions and moods

  • A person may appear apathetic and lose interest in favourite hobbies.

  • Some people become less expressive and withdrawn.

Physical abilities

  • The disease can affect a person’s coordination and mobility to the point of affecting their ability to perform day-to-day tasks such as eating, bathing, and getting dressed.

Behaviour

  • A person may have reactions that seem out of character.

  • Some common reactions include repeating the same action or words, hiding possessions, physical outbursts, and restlessness.


For more information on the different types of dementia or if you or a loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease or other dementias, speak to your medical practitioner or consult your local Alzheimer Society as your first link to resources and support.


Ideal Caregivers 4u is here to assist you or your loved one living with Alzheimer's or other dementias by providing companionship services, personal care, meal assistance, and more. Visit our website or contact us today to see how we can help!



 

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