Do you know which dementia stages are associated with significant personality changes? How about which types of dementia cause hallucinations? Did you know that there are other forms of dementia besides Alzheimer’s disease?
Here’s why it’s important to educate yourself about dementia: Prevention, in many cases, may be possible. And for anyone already showing symptoms, it’s crucial to understand what may lie ahead as the condition progresses. Friends, loved ones, and caregivers can provide much better support (and minimize their own stress) by having good information and giving this subject the full attention it deserves.
In this article, you’ll learn about several aspects of dementia, including its potential causes, the signs to watch for, how it’s diagnosed, and how it can be treated and managed. You’ll also learn how to live with someone who has dementia and provide compassionate care in a way that maintains their dignity. You’ll even discover reasons for hope.
Dementia vs. Alzheimer’s Disease: What the Terminology Means
The difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s disease is that dementia is a general category of symptoms and Alzheimer’s disease is a specific disease diagnosed within that overall category. Dementia is an umbrella term for several types of disorders that involve life-disrupting cognitive decline. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, but many other forms also exist.
So a person can have dementia without having Alzheimer’s disease. A person can also have multiple kinds of dementia (a condition known as “mixed dementia”); Alzheimer’s disease may be just one of them.
In short, a person with Alzheimer’s disease has dementia. But a person with dementia doesn’t necessarily have Alzheimer’s disease. Either way, the outcome is usually the same. A person with dementia retains consciousness but progressively loses their mental abilities, leading to a severe inability to perform basic daily activities. Memory, communication, reasoning, and motor functions can all be affected.
It’s essential to understand the differences between various dementia types to give the patient the appropriate care. But pinpointing what kind of dementia a person has can be challenging since different forms of dementia often have overlapping symptoms. In many cases, a completely accurate diagnosis can’t be made until a patient passes away and an autopsy is performed.
The most common forms of dementia you should know about is Alzheimer’s Disease.
As the most common type of dementia and the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S., Alzheimer’s disease poses major challenges for patients, loved ones, caregivers, and the nation’s healthcare system. Alzheimer’s is currently a terminal disease, meaning that it is fatal and irreversible; no cure exists. So the toll it takes can be overwhelming for everyone involved.
Like most other forms of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease comes on gradually. People with this disease tend to appear perfectly normal during the earliest stages. But as the disease progresses, the symptoms slowly become more obvious and life-altering. Every patient is different, but some of the most characteristic symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease include:
- Memory problems (especially when it comes to remembering new information)
- Trouble using words to communicate
- Confusion and disorientation
- Impaired thinking and poor decision-making
- Strange, out-of-character behavior
- Emotional problems, such as sadness, fear, or anxiety
- Lack of interest in previously enjoyed hobbies
- Trouble completing routine tasks and daily activities
- Restlessness and agitation
- Impaired motor functions, such as trouble walking and swallowing (mostly during advanced stages of the disease)
Researchers continue to make discoveries about what happens to the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. They’ve already discovered that this disease causes changes to a person’s brain at both a structural and cellular level. At the structural level, the disease impairs the limbic system first, followed by the cerebral cortex and then the brain stem. The disease can also prevent the formation of new blood vessels in different parts of the brain. At the cellular level, the disease progressively destroys a person’s brain cells (known as neurons). As neurons die, affected areas of the brain start to shrink. Two proteins are thought to play a role in that process:
- Beta-amyloid: In Alzheimer’s patients’ brains, abnormal plaques (mostly consisting of this protein) form like scar tissue between neurons. As more and more of these plaques accumulate in the brain, neurons are less and less able to send messages to each other.
- Tau: In a healthy brain, this protein helps neurons maintain their internal structure. But in people with Alzheimer’s disease, it forms tangled bundles of fibers that prevent the normal functioning of neurons.
So for people with Alzheimer’s disease, it’s like their internal “lights” are slowly being dimmed and shut off. And there is currently no way to turn those lights back on; the damage is permanent. That’s what makes Alzheimer’s such a scary illness. Plus, the damage often begins ten or more years before any symptoms emerge.
Here are some additional facts about Alzheimer’s disease:
- Data from the World Health Organization (WHO) indicates that it may play a major role in as many as 60 to 70 percent of all dementia cases.
- According to a report from the Alzheimer’s Association, about 10 percent of seniors above the age of 65 have the disease.
- The above report also found that nearly two-thirds of Alzheimer’s patients in the U.S. are women.
Our Rivers Memory Care program at The Village at Sugar Land: Assisted Living and Memory Care provides a supportive community for our residents with Dementia. Our trained staff works with our residents on a daily basis. Residents and their families are assured about our highest quality memory care and support for them.
For more information about our Memory Care programs, call 832-944-8111 or email us at [email protected]