The Difference Between Alzheimer’s and Dementia (And What It Means for Your Loved One)

The DifferenceBetween Alzheimer’s and Dementia (And What It Means for Your Loved One)

Although Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are terms that are used interchangeably, they aren’t the same. Specifically, Alzheimer’s in only a type of dementia. It is, however, the most prevalent type accounting for 60 to 80 percent of cases, not to mention more than 6 million Americans are currently living with it, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.  Learn more about the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia and what it means for your loved one.

The Facts on Dementia

Dementia is not a disease in and of itself; it’s an umbrella term for loss of memory and other thinking abilities severe enough to interfere with daily life. Dementia is actually caused by damage to brain cells with different types affecting different parts of the brain. The types of dementia include:

  • Alzheimer’s disease        
  • Vascular
  • Lewy body
  • Frontotemporal
  • Other, including Huntington’s
  • Mixed, which is dementia from more than one cause

In addition, there are a range of conditions that can cause symptoms of dementia. While many types of dementia are progressive, starting slowly and getting worse over time, some can be reversed or improved such as those caused by thyroid problems and vitamin deficiencies making early diagnosis vital.

Differences Between Alzheimer’s and Dementia

While dementia encompasses a group of symptoms associated with memory loss, Alzheimer’s is a specific brain disease. According to the Alzheimer’sAssociation, “in Alzheimer's disease, high levels of certain proteins inside and outside brain cells make it hard for brain cells to stay healthy and to communicate with each other. The brain region called the hippocampus is the center of learning and memory in the brain, and the brain cells in this region are often the first to be damaged. That's why memory loss is often one of the earliest symptoms of Alzheimer's.”

Alzheimer’s disease is progressive (although the rate ofdecline varies by person), typically affects those over the age of 65, and has three general stages:

  • Early-Stage – Your loved one is still mostly independent but repeats questions or comments (often within the same conversations), misplaces objects, may avoid activities, has mood changes, and difficulty understanding and recalling new information.
  • Middle-Stage – This is typically the longest stage and although your loved one can still participate in activities, daily support is often needed. Family members often notice greater difficulty communicating in social situations, increased irritability, more withdrawal from regular activities, more frequent memory issues, disorientation even in familiar environments, difficulty with judgement, lack of awareness of time and personality or behavioral changes.
  • Late-Stage - Care is needed 24/7 and your loved one will lose the ability to respond to their environment, to carry on conversations, and eventually, to control movement like walking, sitting, and swallowing. They may experience significant personality changes as well. However, they can still benefit from interaction like listening to music or reassurance through gentle touch.

Diagnosing the Difference Between Alzheimer’s and Dementia

There’s no one test that diagnoses dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. It’s based on medical history, physical and neurological exams, lab tests, brain imaging and the signs your loved one exhibits. While dementia itself can be clearly determined, the specific type may not be with a high level of certainty because some symptoms and parts of the brain affected can overlap. Dementia treatment typically depends on the cause. Currently, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. But treatments to slow symptoms and improve quality of life are available.

Caring for Your Loved One with Dementia

If and when your loved one needs care outside the home, memory care can benefit them greatly. This type of senior living is specifically for those with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia and offers individualized support in a secure, yet comfortable environment. Our PEAK memory program is designed to engage your loved one where they are today while enhancing their overall wellness – mind, body, and spirit. The benefits of PEAK memory care include:

  • 24-hour certified caregivers specially trained in memory care
  • Innovative technology provided by the iN2L (It’s Never Too Late) system
  • A farm-to-table culinary experience with wholesome and healthy chef prepared meals (Gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan and diabetic friendly menu options available)
  • Structured daily routines to decrease stress and enhance comfort
  • Intergenerational activities and pet therapy
  • Daily opportunities to engage through music, exercise, and/or brain fitness programs
  • Family resources, volunteer opportunities, and education

PEAK Memory Care is available in our Tacoma, Lynnwood, and Federal Way communities.

For more information on memory care at GenCare Lifestyle, contact a community near you, or schedule a tour today!

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