What Are The Differences Between Alzheimer’s & Dementia?
Dementia is one of the most common health conditions currently affecting older people in the United Kingdom. The term “dementia” actually refers to a broad category of brain diseases that affect a person’s memory, cognitive ability and behaviour.
Dementia currently affects more than 850,000 people in the United Kingdom and that figure is expected to rise to 1 million by 2025. The likelihood of having some form of dementia dramatically increases as a person ages. By the time a person is 80 years of age, they will have a one in six chance of having some form of dementia.
Many people confuse dementia with Alzheimer’s disease. While the terms are closely related, there are several key differences. Dementia refers to a group of diseases that share similar symptoms while Alzheimer’s disease refers to a specific disease.
Common Forms Of Dementia
Alzheimer’s disease is easily the most common form of dementia; responsible for between 50% to 70% of dementia cases. Other forms of dementia include Parkinson’s disease dementia, Lewy body dementia, vascular dementia and Frontotemporal dementia.
It is possible for a person to suffer more than one type of dementia simultaneously, which can make diagnosis difficult. Unfortunately, there is no cure for some forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. However, the progression of dementia can sometimes be slowed with medications and rehabilitation.
The signs and symptoms of dementia will vary according to the type of dementia and the stage of the disease. In most cases, dementia will initially affect a person’s memory, problem solving skills, language, attention span and visual-spatial learning.
As dementia progresses, it begins to affect more cognitive and physical abilities. Eventually it can cause body tremors, balance problems, problems chewing food and swallowing, hallucinations, behavioural issues, psychological problems and poor mobility.
Alzheimer’s Disease Is Different To Other Forms Of Dementia
Like most forms of dementia, Alzheimer’s initially affects a person’s short-term memory. As the disease progresses, symptoms will include problems with language, mood swings, loss of motivation, behavioural issues, hallucinations and disorientation.
Unlike some other forms of dementia, researchers do not know the cause of Alzheimer’s disease yet and there is no cure. However, they suspect Alzheimer’s disease may be related to a genetic issue. There are certain environmental factors that can also increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease including head injuries, depression, and hypertension.
A Build Up Of Proteins On The Brain
Scientists have discovered that some neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s cause certain proteins to build up in the brain. These accumulated proteins can interfere with the correct functioning of the brain and can be responsible for many of the symptoms.
In the case of Alzheimer’s disease, the proteins that build up are called beta-amyloid and tau. Clumps of beta-amyloid are called plaques and clumps of tau are referred to as tangles. These plaques and tangles are one of the defining characteristics of Alzheimer’s disease that set it apart from other types of dementia.
Other neurodegenerative diseases result in different types of proteins building up. Patients with Lewy body dementia have a buildup of a protein called alpha-synuclein. This protein forms microscopic clumps in the brain called Lewy bodies (named after the scientist who discovered them). The Lewy bodies prevent the brain from processing signals correctly, ultimately causing symptoms of dementia.
Scientists are still trying to understand why these proteins build-up in the brain. Some of the available medications for treating Alzheimer’s alter brain chemistry to reduce the extent of the symptoms caused by plaques and tangles.
Diagnosis & Treatment
It can be difficult to determine which type of dementia a person has. Doctors will use a combination of medical history, history from relatives, and behavioural observations to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease in a patient. CT, MRI and PET scans are also used to eliminate other types of dementia from the diagnosis.
If someone you love is diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, it is important to stay positive and provide as much support as possible. Treatments are improving and people with these conditions can enjoy many years of happiness.