Many people talk about Alzheimer’s and dementia interchangeably, so it should come as no surprise that there’s a lot of confusion when it comes to the differences between the two. They both involve a decline in mental faculties, including memory, communication, and the ability to perform daily tasks. That said, Alzheimer’s and dementia are not interchangeable, so we’re going to go over the differences between them.
Syndrome vs Disease
Dementia is a broad term that is used to describe a wide range of diseases and symptoms, and it can be caused by a variety of conditions – Alzheimer’s just happens to be the most common one.
Alzheimer’s is short for Alzheimer’s Disease, and while it is a form of dementia, dementia itself is not a disease – it’s a syndrome. While patients need a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, there is no diagnosis of dementia. Dementia is defined as a group of symptoms that affect the person’s mental faculties, but there is no definitive diagnosis of dementia.
Although dementia and Alzheimer’s are both associated with old age, young and middle-aged people have been known to show symptoms of both dementia and Alzheimer’s. It’s also important to remember that neither one is considered a normal part of aging.
People can have more than one type of dementia at one time. This is known as mixed dementia, and is usually caused by the person having multiple conditions that contribute to dementia. Unlike Alzheimer’s, mixed dementia can only be diagnosed by autopsy.
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s vs. Dementia
Alzheimer’s and dementia have some symptoms in common, which is the main reason people tend to get them confused. They both involve impaired mental faculties, particularly when it comes to memory and communication, and they can both lead to behavioral changes, often fueled by confusion and frustration.
But Alzheimer’s has some symptoms that dementia does not, mostly pertaining to mood swings and behavioral changes. However, in the most advanced stages of Alzheimer’s, patients can lose the ability to walk, speak, and even swallow as the parts of their brain that control those motions decay, which does not happen with dementia.
Causes of Alzheimer’s vs. Dementia
One of the biggest differences between Alzheimer’s and dementia is their causes. While Alzheimer’s is largely genetic, dementia can be caused by a combination of genetics and/or an infection, such as HIV, metabolic disorders/hypoglycemia/tumors, depression and/or chronic drug use, and vascular disease and/or stroke.
Because dementia and Alzheimer’s have different causes, the treatments for each depend on what’s causing the problem. There is some overlap in the way they’re both treated, but there are also some key differences.
There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s, although there are drugs to treat the symptoms, namely antipsychotics, drugs to help with the memory loss, sleep, and depression and mood swings. Alternative treatments include fish oil or coconut oil, both of which have been shown to boost overall cognitive function.
Some forms of dementia can be cured, depending on the cause. If the cause is genetic, as with Alzheimer’s, then there isn’t much hope (yet). If, on the other hand, the dementia is caused by something else, then treating the root cause often does result in improved symptoms of dementia. Tumors, hypoglycemia, drug use, and metabolic disorders are some of the causes of dementia that respond best to treatment.
If you have any other questions about Alzheimer’s or dementia, we’re happy to help.
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Hoarding is its own psychological disorder, characterized by an excessive accumulation of objects to the point where it begins to interfere with the person’s life, often by covering just about every available surface in their living area and/or including keeping food and medicine that has gone bad. The person feels distress at the thought of throwing anything away, and while the disorder can be isolated, it can also be paired with other disorders, such as severe anxiety and/or depression. It may make them feel safe to know they have everything they could ever possibly need.
Hoarding can also be found in conjunction with Alzheimer’s or dementia, in which case it may be due more to confusion than out of any fear of throwing something away. Food may have been left to rot because they can’t remember when they bought it and their sense of smell has deteriorated to the point where they can’t tell it’s gone bad. Medications may likewise be left to go bad if the person can’t remember what it is, why they’re taking it, how much they’re supposed to take, when they’re supposed to take it, or when they took their last dose.
Likewise, mail may be left to pile up if they’ve lost the mental capacity for sequential tasking. If that’s the case, then someone will need to sit down and go through the mail with them to make sure no important documents are lost and bills don’t go unpaid.
Patience is A Virtue
As tempting as it is to get frustrated with hoarders and dementia patients (and doubly tempting when the two disorders are combined), it is of the utmost importance to remain calm and speak kindly and gently to your loved one. Remember that they’re not doing any of this on purpose, and if you lash out or yell at them, you’ll make them more confused and anxious, which will make everything worse.
Choose your time to talk about the hoarded objects wisely – specifically when your loved one is in a good mood. Talk them through the process of selecting items to be thrown away – if they haven’t yet lost the ability to appreciate logical reasoning, you might be able to convince them to discard much of what they’ve collected without too much trouble.
Memory Box Technique
The memory box technique is one strategy that has proven to be successful when dealing with hoarders. Choose a box to be their designated place to keep “special things.” You can even decorate it together to make the box both more special and more memorable – this has the added benefit of creating a fun activity you and your loved one can share together. Anything your loved one likes to collect can be put in the memory box, which makes it easy for you to keep track of the accumulation of those items. If their rubber band collection is getting out of control, for example, you can remove some of them and your loved one probably won’t even notice. You can also label and keep items that really are valuable, such as keys and wallets, in the box. That way, when your loved one comes to you looking for something, you can simply suggest they check their box.