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The Difference Between Dementia and Alzheimer’s and How They Overlap

With Dementia Action Week running from the 20-26 May this year, we thought it would be a good time to shine a light on the condition. We also want to explore some of the differences between dementia and Alzheimer’s, another common condition that affects older people. 

If you’re not sure of the differences between the two, you’re certainly not alone. We hope this article will help!

What is dementia?

Dementia is not actually a disease in its own right. Instead, it’s the name given to the group of symptoms that impacts memory, problem-solving, language and perception. Those symptoms result from different diseases that affect the brain. Of those diseases, Alzheimer’s is the most common. In fact, Alzheimer’s is responsible for between 50 and 70 percent of all cases of dementia.

So, we can think of dementia as an umbrella term for a set of symptoms related to cognitive decline. Alzheimer’s can cause dementia, but so can other diseases such as Huntington’s, Parkinson’s, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, depression and stroke.

And what’s Alzheimer’s?

Alzheimer’s is a physical disease that affects the brain. Abnormal structures build up inside the brain which disrupts how the nerve cells work and communicate with each other. Eventually, some of those nerve cells die. Alzheimer’s suffers also have a shortage of some important brain chemicals. Without those chemicals, messages are unable to travel around the brain as they should.

Alzheimer’s will usually begin with mild memory loss and difficulty recalling recent events. Sufferers may also struggle to find the right words or solve problems and make decisions. As it progresses, problems with communication, memory loss and reasoning can become more severe and the individual will need more day-to-day support.   

Does dementia lead to Alzheimer’s?

No. Alzheimer’s is the disease and dementia refers to the symptoms, so it’s actually the other way around. Alzheimer’s disease is one of the causes of the collective symptoms we know as dementia.

Can dementia and Alzheimer’s be treated?

Unfortunately, no cure for Alzheimer’s is currently available. However, treatments can temporarily ease and slow down the progression of the disease in some people. Treatments that help to manage the symptoms include:

  • Medicines – A number of medicines can be prescribed for Alzheimer’s to temporarily improve the symptoms. That includes:
    • Acetylcholinesterase inhibitors – These medicines increase levels of acetylcholine, the substance in the brain which helps nerve cells communicate with each other
    • Memantine – This medicine works by blocking the effects of an excessive amount of a chemical caused glutamate.
    • Behavioural changes – Medicines can also be prescribed to treat the behavioural and psychological symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
  • Therapies and activities – Taking part in group activities and exercises to improve memory and problem-solving skills (cognitive stimulation therapy) and working with a trained professional to learn new skills (cognitive rehabilitation) can be beneficial.
  • Alternative remedies – Coconut oil and fish oil can be used to boost brain function and overall health. One of the biggest differences between dementia and Alzheimer’s is that although dementia isn’t reversible, depending on the cause, it can sometimes be treated and managed quite effectively. The conditions most likely to respond to treatment include dementia due to:
    • Tumours
    • Metabolic disorders
    • Hypoglycaemia

The treatments for dementia depend on the cause. Dementia sufferers should discuss the best treatment with their doctors.

We hope that helps!

At Westgate Healthcare, we have several care homes that provide the highest quality of dementia care in a safe, secure and friendly environment. Take a look at our care homes and get in touch to find out more.  

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