In A Nutshell
Both Alzheimer’s and dementia are associated with a loss of memory, but what’s the difference? Alzheimer’s refers to a physical change in the makeup of the brain, which causes dementia as one of its major symptoms. Dementia can be a symptom of other diseases as well.
The Whole Bushel
Dementia is actually one of the major symptoms of and the final stage in the progression of Alzheimer’s (an age-related disease that is characterized by symptoms other than just memory loss), as well as by a physical change in brain tissue. When a person suffers from the symptom of dementia, that means that they’re afflicted by memory loss and an overall decline in their ability to process information. In order to be diagnosed with dementia, a person must demonstrate impaired abilities in two of the following areas: memory, ability to focus, reasoning and judgment, visual perception, and communication.
It’s also important to note that dementia is diagnosed when the symptoms get so bad that they interfere with a person’s ability to function on a daily basis. Forgetfulness and memory loss is a normal part of aging, but dementia is defined as severe instances of those.
Alzheimer’s is one of the causes of dementia. It describes a physical condition in which there is a change in the tissue of the brain, including the formation of structures called amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles—essentially, blockages in the brain that prevent the transmission of signals. The loss of signals between the brain’s neurons results in dementia, along with some other symptoms.
In addition to dementia, those who suffer from Alzheimer’s often show other signs of cognitive difficulty. This can include a loss of depth and spatial perception, abnormal sleep patterns, and an inability to visualize and understand abstract concepts, such as numbers. There is often a change in personality, as well, and a person can become angry, restless, or paranoid. Those afflicted with the disease often have trouble following directions or fulfilling requests, and may also lack the motivation to do so. This lack of motivation can extend to all areas of life, from getting up in the morning to interacting with other people.
Dementia can be caused by something other than Alzheimer’s. Common causes for dementia can include vitamin deficiencies or problems in other parts of the body, such as the thyroid. Some medications can cause dementia as one of their side effects, and the excessive use of alcohol can also lead to dementia.
Dementia generally starts out mild and progresses slowly over years. In some cases—depending on the cause of the dementia—it can be managed and sometimes even treated and reversed. For example, if it’s determined that a medication is causing the symptoms, stopping the medication may get rid of the dementia.
Alzheimer’s also worsens over time, and three distinct stages have been identified. The first is a stage where there are no symptoms, but the disease it starting to develop in the brain. The second is the stage where symptoms begin to manifest themselves, and when the person suffers from mild but not complete cognitive impairment. In the third stage, symptoms progress to full-blown dementia.
Currently, there are no cures or preventative methods for Alzheimer’s, and those who are diagnosed with it will eventually need around-the-clock, complete care. What triggers the development of Alzheimer’s is also unknown, although many doctors point to an all-around healthy lifestyle as the best way to keep brain function at healthy levels, no matter what your age.