Dementia Versus Alzheimer’s: What is the difference?

November 18, 2019

November is National Family Caregivers Month, and we would love for you to join us in celebrating this special cause. Caregivers play a special role in many families. In fact, they do so much more than give care. They bring joy to families. They spark laughter and they motivate you to be healthy. They offer comfort and support. Most importantly, they give the gift of peace of mind—knowing that your loved one is in good hands.

We’d like to extend a special thank you to all of the Alzheimer’s and Dementia caregivers out there. Although it’s rewarding, it’s hard work, and we’re inspired by the generosity and selflessness of these amazing caregivers! In their honor, we’re tackling an age-old question that still stumps many people to this day: What is the difference between Dementia and Alzheimer’s?

The Mix-Up

Dementia and Alzheimer’s are often used interchangeably. Some people think it’s the same disease. We can debunk that myth right now. Dementia is not a disease; it is a syndrome. Alzheimer’s, on the other hand, is a disease. Both of them affect the mind (which we’ll cover later on), but there’s a reason for their different names.

Dementia, by definition, is a group of symptoms that affects mental cognitive tasks such as memory and reasoning.

Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease of the brain that slowly causes impairment in memory and cognitive function.

In other words, dementia serves as an umbrella term that Alzheimer’s falls under. You can have dementia without having Alzheimer’s, but you can’t have Alzheimer’s without having dementia. That’s because dementia classifies a set of symptoms that Alzheimer’s patients have. Make sense?

Dementia Symptoms

A telltale sign of dementia is memory impairment. This could mean forgetting big things, like someone’s name, or it could be something smaller, like forgetting a conversation that took place yesterday. People with dementia may forget how to get home or they may have a hard time remembering what day it is.

With time, these symptoms get more serious. They may mean repeatedly forgetting names, forgetting faces, and forgetting how to take care of oneself. Typically confusion goes hand in hand with dementia as it progresses. This is when a caregiver may come into the picture, as this person can help out with hygiene, daily routines, and social interactions.

In the worst-case scenario, someone with dementia may stop being able to care for his or herself altogether. Although this is unfortunate, the good news is that a caregiver can jump right in and help make the aging process more seamless.

Alzheimer’s Symptoms

With Alzheimer’s, the brain begins to suffer from damage before the symptoms actually begin to appear. What happens is the person begins to develop abnormal protein deposits in the brain. This triggers the loss of connection between some cells, which die over time.

As you know, there is some overlap between Alzheimer’s symptoms and dementia symptoms. Alzheimer’s symptoms typically start with memory loss and confusion as well. Over time, though, the affected person may develop behavioral changes, such as apathy, aggression, or anger. They may also develop depression, which could be a direct result of the confusion and behavioral changes. Another main symptom of Alzheimer’s is a change in communication patterns. Someone with Alzheimer’s may begin to have a difficult time communicating; with time, this could worsen to the point of speech impairment.

Similar to the case of dementia patients, people with Alzheimer’s will benefit greatly from a caregiver.

Dementia Treatment

Because dementia is an umbrella term that can be linked to different diseases and symptoms, the treatment varies from person to person. For example, someone who has dementia as a result of Parkinson’s disease may have different treatment from someone who is at the first stages of memory loss.

There are several different kinds of medication that doctors may prescribe to a patient with dementia symptoms:

  • Cholinesterase inhibitors (Donepezil, Rivastigmine, Galantamine)
  • Memantine
  • Medication for depression
  • Melatonin

These medications won’t completely treat the syndrome, but they could help alleviate some of the symptoms a patient may be experiencing.

Alzheimer’s Treatment

Treatment of Alzheimer’s disease is similar in the sense that there is no way to completely absolve someone of the disease. However, there are several ways to maintain a person’s cognitive capabilities or behavior. The Food and Drug Administration has approved the following prescription drugs for Alzheimer’s patients:

  • Razadyne® (galantamine)
  • Exelon® (rivastigmine)
  • Aricept® (donepezil)
  • Namenda® (for severe cases of Alzheimer’s)

Another form of treatment is a caregiver. Caregivers can help people as they develop symptoms and changes in their mind, and they can be there every step of the way through the disease.

As we honor our caregivers throughout National Caregivers Month, it’s important to recognize all they do for the people on this earth. Caring for patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s is just one of the many things they do. Happy National Caregivers Month!

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