The Difference between Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease

Dementia Statistics

According to the Dementia Statistics Hub, there are 850,000 people currently living with dementia in the UK alone. Dementia costs the economy more than heart disease, stroke and cancer, and a study from 2015 has predicted this to double from £26 billion to £55 billion by 2040.

This means that dementia and its different forms are a large part of the world that we live in. Many of us will, at some point, either know a family member or friend who has been diagnosed with a type of dementia, or we might even develop it ourselves.

Are Alzheimer’s and Dementia the Same?

We still have a fairly limited understanding of dementia and Alzheimer’s, making it hard for the general public to distinguish between them. The similarity of the symptoms as well as the fact that 50-70% of dementia cases are diagnosed as Alzheimer’s means that people often chop and change between the two terms. This can lead to the general consensus that they are the same thing, however this isn’t the case.

Dementia

Dementia is a syndrome, meaning that it is used to describe a range of related symptoms which link together a range of over 200 diseases or disorders such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Some forms of dementia are reversible, and this can be due to temporary conditions (such as malnutrition or traumas) from which the brain can sometimes recover its function.

According to the NHS, symptoms of dementia can include a loss of compassion, problems controlling emotions, a loss of interest in conversation or a lessened ability to socialise. People with dementia may also experience hallucinations or make false claims or statements. Other symptoms can include depression, a change in mood and personality and periods of mental confusion.

Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. According to alzheimers.org, more than 520,000 people currently live with it in the UK alone. Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, which sees cognitive function decline over time as it continues to damage more parts of the brain.

People with Alzheimer’s will have a loss of brain tissue due to protein build-up, as well as reduced levels of essential brain chemicals which relay messages between cells. Although Alzheimer’s is still incurable, these symptoms can be managed with current treatments which are able to boost levels of these chemicals.

Alzheimer’s Disease Prevention

Although Alzheimer’s is currently incurable, there are ways in which individuals can reduce their risk of developing it later in life. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle lessens the chance of developing a form of cardiovascular disease, which research has linked to several forms of dementia. Exercising regularly, avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol consumption and eating sensibly are all great ways to achieve this, and these practices can also reduce the chances of strokes and heart attacks.

There is also evidence to show that maintaining an active social life and participating in mental activities can help to protect individuals against dementia. Group activities, reading and challenging puzzles such as crosswords could help, although further research is still needed.

Care

People in the later stages of Alzheimer’s disease and other progressive forms of dementia are unable to look after themselves. This time can be challenging and emotional for any caregiver, and it is important that steps are taken to provide the best support for the patient, their carer and their family.

  • Dementia equipment and aids such as signs, crockery and orientation boards can
    help to reduce confusion and lower stress levels.
  • Easy-to-remove clothing can lessen frustration when people with a form of dementia try to dress themselves. Avoiding the use of zips and buttons.
  • Be inclusive. Involving the person that you are caring for is essential for reducing stress and providing the best care.
  • Having a strong support system in place is vital for both the carer and the patient, as it can be a very distressing and emotional time for both parties.

Support and Help

If someone you know has a form of dementia, or if you have been diagnosed yourself, then there are some fantastic organisations who will be able to provide you with the best information and support. Alzheimer’s Association have a 24 hour helpline and provide information and advice on the future, treatment and research, as well as the financial factors which can affect many people and their families.

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