Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease may not be new to you. Perhaps you know of a family friend or a loved one who has one of these diseases. Perhaps you are wondering how you can help them with these conditions that are often seen as debilitating. It is important to first understand the key differences between these medical diagnoses. Misconceptions run rampant about them, and the terms are often used interchangeably. While it is true that dementia and Alzheimer’s disease share a few key similarities, thinking of them as the “same” cannot be further from the truth. In this article, we outline what dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are as well as the current treatments available.
Dementia is more of a generalized term. It refers to a whole cluster of symptoms that relate to various cognitive faculties. This includes memory, judgment and decision-making, perception, and even motor skills for example. There is a host of reasons why people may develop dementia. Similarly, there are many types of dementia; there are Lewy body dementia, frontotemporal dementia, vascular dementia just to name a few. There is even a mixed dementia wherein the cause of dementia changes over the course of the illness. It is important to note that dementia does not constitute as “just another part of aging”. Dementia means that brain cells are affected and have lost their ability to function effectively.
So where does Alzheimer’s disease fit in? How does it relate to dementia? To put it simply, Alzheimer’s disease is one of the reasons someone can have dementia. If you think of it in another way, all those with Alzheimer’s disease have dementia but not all those with dementia have Alzheimer’s disease. Indeed, anywhere between 60 to 80 % of people with dementia have Alzheimer’s disease.
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease
Now, if you have noticed that a loved one is regularly having trouble remembering something that they have just learned, you should definitely take note of this as it is one of the most common symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Over the course of the illness, this may lead to erratic changes in mood and behavior, confusion, and disorientation with regards to time and place, worsening memory loss amongst other things.
How Can You Help?
Oftentimes, learning that a loved one has Alzheimer’s disease or another kind of dementia can seem overwhelming. An important aspect to note is that your loved one is also probably feeling the same way. Thus, it is important to keep the communication channels open and identify the needs of the patient as they will evolving. It may be a good idea to maintain a day-to-day log of key behaviors or moods. Not only will this help you care better, but it may also aid your primary physician in spotting patterns and providing better treatment options.
Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease can be daunting but it does not mean you have to be physically present all the time. In fact, having a support group of like-minded peers may help your loved ones have a sense of belonging or purpose.