difference between dementia and alzheimer’s
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Ella Hendrix, Writer, takes it back to basics and explains the difference between Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease

According to The Alzheimer’s Society, around 850,000 people in the UK suffer from dementia – and 1 in 6 people who are over the age of 60. Between 60% and 80% of people who suffer from dementia will have Alzheimer’s Disease.

Although many people assume that dementia and Alzheimer’s are the same things, in fact, they are not. So, what is the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s disease? In the simplest terms, dementia is the word that is used to describe a set of systems that result from a number of other conditions – and one of those conditions is Alzheimer’s.

According to dementia care providers at Helping Hands, “Dementia is a term for a range of progressive symptoms and conditions that affect the brain and memory. The brain is made up of billions of neurones (nerve cells) that communicate with each other through chemical signals. If a person has dementia, these neurones are damaged which means that these messages cannot be sent efficiently which in turn effects all functions of the body.”

What is Alzheimer’s?

Alzheimer’s is a physical disease. It affects the brain when plaques (proteins) and tangles (fibres) build up in the brain, which can then disrupt the way that the nerve cells in the brain communicate with each other and work generally.

Alzheimer’s can also affect the levels of certain chemicals in the brain, making it even more difficult for the messages to travel around the brain.

Alzheimer’s is a progressive condition, which means that it will get worse with time, and there is currently no cure for it, although some medication can slow it down.

The result of Alzheimer’s is that sufferers experience memory loss, difficulty in carrying out an everyday conversation, performing ‘normal’ tasks, confusion, mood changes, and aggression. These can worsen over time, and many people who suffer from Alzheimer’s go on to experience problems with speaking, walking and other functions that most of us take for granted.

Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s

There is no specific test that can be done to diagnose Alzheimer’s. However, doctors can look at your symptoms, check memory, vision, language and attention, as well as do an MRI brain scan which will give them an accurate idea of whether it is Alzheimer’s that someone is suffering from.

If you don’t have Alzheimer’s but are having similar symptoms, it is possible that another condition could be diagnosed. Some of the other conditions which can cause dementia include:

  • Vascular Dementia
  • Dementia with Lewy Bodies
  • Mixed Dementia
  • Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD)
  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) – one variant of this, is what’s known as ‘mad cow disease’
  • Huntingdon’s Disease
  • Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus

It is important to remember, however, that not all of these conditions have exactly the same symptoms, so if you are suffering any of the symptoms mentioned, go to your doctor straight away.

Dealing with a diagnosis

Whether it is Alzheimer’s or another condition which is resulting in dementia, dealing with a diagnosis can be tough for everybody – the person who is suffering and their loved ones.

This can be a worrying time about the future and it is recommended that if someone that you love is diagnosed with one of these conditions, a little planning can help them to feel more assured about the future.

Some aspects that you can plan include:

  • The prospects of a part or full-time carer come to help around the house, give medication and look after their general well-being. Live-in carers are also an option.
  • Maybe moving to live with another family member.
  • Getting affairs in order and giving a trusted friend or family member the power of attorney.
  • Customising their home to make it safer and easier for them – grip rails in the bathroom, a stairlift, smoke detectors or moving furniture around, for example.
  • An alarm can notify help or loved-ones if they fall, or a GPS tracking system if they are prone to wandering, confusion or getting lost.
  • Placing items such as photos of houses, people and their life as well as important objects, around the house for them to see. Although short-term memory loss is very common, such photos and objects can bring a great deal of comfort.

As our understanding of dementia and Alzheimer’s deepens, we are finding out more and more about how the conditions occur and how we can best help our loved ones who are suffering from them. A new understanding of the heading of footballs is one such example, and with better knowledge, we can help to improve the quality of life for everyone.

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