daughter visiting elderly motherMany people use the terms “Alzheimer’s disease” and “dementia” interchangeably. However, there are several key differences between these two medical conditions.

For one, dementia is a broadly applied term used to describe cognitive decline; Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia and the most common cause. As older adults are more at risk for both conditions, here’s what you should know.

What Is Dementia?

Dementia itself is not a specific condition, but a general medical term used to describe a loss of memory, reasoning and other cognitive skills. As such, dementia encompasses multiple conditions and has more than one source.

Since dementia is a syndrome, its presentation varies. A patient may actually be living with multiple forms, a condition known as “mixed dementia”. Currently, Alzheimer’s disease is the most frequent presentation, accounting for 60 to 80 percent of all cases.

Generally, dementia affects an individual’s memory, communication skills and ability to perform daily tasks. The condition arises when certain sets of brain cells are damaged and may be affected by a degenerative disease, such as Parkinson’s or Huntington’s.

Individuals may also experience dementia following a stroke or as a result of a tumor, vascular disease, hypoglycemia, a metabolic disorder, HIV, depression or drug use.

Dementia does not mean a person simply forgets things. This cognitive decline affects day-to-day functioning to the point round-the-clock care often becomes necessary.

Dementia is not an inevitable part of aging. The condition may start with an individual having trouble keeping track of time or forgetting a familiar setting. General confusion and the inability to recall information gradually worsens over time.

You may notice a loved one frequently repeating questions and experiencing episodes of depression or aggression. While dementia cannot be reversed, the right medications can assist with managing symptoms and reducing aggressive behavior.

What Is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s is also a result of brain cell damage – specifically, abnormal protein deposits from accumulating plaques. This change then manifests as dementia symptoms.

The first sign of Alzheimer’s disease is often an inability to retain new information. This symptom may emerge as early as age 40 and get progressively worse, until the condition affects language, reasoning and thought processes.

Today, roughly 5 million adults live with Alzheimer’s disease, with most individuals being over the age of 65. Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by specific symptoms:

  • Behavior changes
  • Challenges with memory, retaining both new and old information
  • Disorientation and confusion
  • Difficulty speaking and communicating
  • Difficulty swallowing and walking
  • Pronounced apathy and depression
  • Decreased judgement

West Hartford Health and Rehabilitation Center is a state-of-the-art facility for Alzheimer’s and dementia care. To learn more about our approach and services, contact us today.