The terms dementia and Alzheimer’s are often used interchangeably. They, however, are not completely synonymous. Dementia is a group of symptoms (syndrome) characterized by a decline in memory, thinking, and reasoning. Dementia is not simply the age-related forgetfulness; it is associated with other changes as well. It hinders a person from performing their routine tasks. They find it difficult to focus, understand, concentrate, and have a conversation besides other complaints. There are several causes of dementia:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Vascular dementia
- Dementia with Lewy bodies
- Frontotemporal dementia
- Parkinson’s disease
- Huntington’s disease
- Traumatic brain injury
- Dementia due to medications
- Dementia due to alcohol (Wernicke’s encephalopathy) and other substance abuse
Although dementia is a cluster of symptoms, Alzheimer’s is a disease. It is the commonest type of dementia consisting of around 60-80% of dementia cases. Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible, slowly progressive disorder of the brain that destroys memory and thinking skills which eventually makes a person unable to carry out the most basic tasks. Most people develop this disease in their mid-60s (late-onset Alzheimer’s) while for some the symptoms first appear between their 30s and mid-60s. There are seven stages of Alzheimer’s, dementia occurs in the mid to late stages of the disease.
What are the symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s?
The symptoms of dementia vary depending on its cause. The common symptoms are:
- Decline in memory
- Problems in communication and speech
- Alterations in thinking ability
- Changes in thinking skills
- Problems with judgment and reasoning
- Decrease in focus and concentration
- Abnormal visual perceptions such as seeing things which are not there (hallucinations), inability to detect movement or see the difference between colors
Alzheimer’s disease progresses through different stages. Thus, the signs and symptoms may vary according to the stage of the disease. The typical signs of Alzheimer’s are:
- The person has a progressive decline in memory
- They report the inability to focus and concentrate
- The person repeatedly asks the same questions
- They forget something they just read
- They have trouble staying organized
- They find it difficult to make and execute plans
- They tend to forget names
- A lack of interest in the surroundings: the person avoids conversations or participating in activities
- Inability to remember personal details such as phone number and home address
- They may confuse people and relations, for instance, they may confuse their wife with their mother.
- They forget names but may recognize faces.
- They may also exhibit loss of bowel and bladder control.
- The person needs help for basic needs such as eating, drinking, sitting up and walking. They may even forget how to smile or swallow their food properly.
- They often develop stiffness and joint deformities.
Is being diagnosed with dementia means the person has Alzheimer’s?
No. Being diagnosed with dementia does not necessarily mean the person has Alzheimer’s. It simply means being diagnosed with a set of symptoms such as a decline in memory, thinking, and reasoning. Dementia may be due to various causes such as stroke and substance abuse, and not just Alzheimer’s. For the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, your doctor needs to do specialized investigations such as a positron emission tomography (PET) scan besides physical examination and other tests.
Is there a cure for dementia and Alzheimer’s?
There is no cure for Alzheimer’s. The progression of the diseases can be stopped or slowed by various drug and non-drug options. Medical help must be sought as soon as the symptoms appear.
Dementia, however, may be cured in certain cases such as dementia due to certain medications and vitamin deficiencies.
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