It’s common to hear the terms “dementia” and “Alzheimer’s disease” used interchangeably. However, there are notable differences between the conditions.
Dementia is a syndrome, or series of related symptoms, rather than a disease. In 2016, an estimated five million people were living with some form of dementia. Dementia can be caused by strokes, head injuries, brain tumors, Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and other conditions. Most notably, 50 to 70 percent of dementia cases are caused by Alzheimer’s disease. Dementia symptoms can progress, but unlike Alzheimer’s disease, some forms of the syndrome can be reversed with therapy and treatment.
Alzheimer’s disease is a very specific form of dementia. It occurs when proteins in the brain build up and form structures of plaques and tangles. This buildup leads to lost connections between nerve cells; the nerve cells eventually die which causes lost brain tissue. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s. Ten percent of people 65 years and older has Alzheimer’s dementia.
Dementia symptoms include having impairments with memory, thought processes and communication. Alzheimer’s symptoms can overlap with those of dementia, but Alzheimer’s symptoms also include impaired judgment, disorientation, confusion, behavioral changes and more.
There is no cure for Alzheimer’s but medications—such as antidepressants and antipsychotics—can help some patients manage the symptoms. For dementia, the treatments depend on the root cause of the syndrome. In many cases, treatment protocols for Alzheimer’s and dementia can overlap.
A diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease is always difficult for seniors and their families—and there are no easy answers. Arm yourself with information about your parent’s condition by speaking with elder care physicians, local support groups, or national associations such as the Dementia Society of America and the Alzheimer’s Association.
Contact Life Care Services to learn about memory care programs offered through senior care that can help your parent experience a quality life for as long as possible.