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Dementia and Alzheimer’s are common conditions amongst the older generation. The two conditions are often confused because the symptoms are similar, but the conditions are very different from one another.

It is important to know the difference because having the understanding means the care is more tailored to their needs.

Both conditions share some symptoms like reduced ability to think, memory impairment and communication problems.

Alzheimer symptoms go on with symptoms such as confusion, difficultly remembering recent conversations or events, impaired judgement, behaviour changes, being disoriented, depression and low mood.

When it reaches advanced stages the person may have difficulty walking, swallowing and speaking.

Some types of dementia can show similar symptoms; however, this depends on the type of dementia which assists in making a diagnosis. Some conditions like Lewy Body Dementia share the same advanced stage symptoms as Alzheimer’s but they will have displayed different early-stage symptoms, including balance difficulties, hallucinations and sleeping problems.

Dementia

Dementia is not a disease; it is a syndrome. A syndrome describes a group of symptoms that don’t have a defined diagnosis. When it is dementia, these symptoms affect cognitive mental functions like memory and reasoning, Alzheimer’s disease can fall under dementia.

If a person suffers from more than one type of dementia, it is classed as mixed dementia. Those that suffer from mixed dementia can have multiple conditions contributing to dementia. This can only be confirmed through an autopsy.

Confusion and forgetfulness grow as the condition progresses. It becomes more difficult to remember faces and people’s names, and it will lead on to a challenge in getting to look after themselves, e.g., washing and eating regularly.

Signs of dementia include making poor decisions, poor hygiene and asking repetitive questions and talking about the same thing’s multiple times.

When the dementia advances people will struggle with the time and timings of things, remembering their loved ones and they will be unable to care for themselves. Often the behaviour will turn into depression and aggression.

Causes of dementia

Age is the greatest risk factor for developing dementia. There are so many conditions that can cause dementia, degenerative diseases like Huntington’s, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, the dementia syndrome is most likely to occur when specific brain cells are damaged.

50% to 70% of dementia cases is caused by Alzheimer’s, whist other possible causes are stroke, chronic drug use, infections like HIV, vascular diseases and depression.

Dementia Treatment

With dementia the treatment is to treat the condition that is causing dementia. As such, the treatment options can widely vary. Some conditions that would be needing treatment are Hypoglycaemia, Tumours, Metabolic disorders and drug use. Whilst dementia isn’t reversible, it is treatable, and you can get treatment to help manage the dementia.

Cholinesterase inhibitors are prescribed for patients with dementia as a result of Parkinson’s and Lewy body dementia.

For vascular dementia, the treatment focuses on preventing more damage to the blood vessels in the brain and also preventing strokes. Live in care or daily carers are possible options as the disease advances.

What is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease of the brain that causes deterioration and impairment in cognitive and memory functions.

There is no known cause or cure for Alzheimer’s. Most of the people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease are older people and the symptoms usually start after 60 years of age, but it is also possible for younger people to suffer from this condition as well.

For people over 80 years, the time from diagnosis to death can be as little as 3 years, but for those younger patients, the period is longer.

Effects of Alzheimer’s on the Brain

Alzheimer’s can cause damage to the brain long before the symptoms come to light, some of the effects of Alzheimer’s include the formation of plaque and tangles in the brain, there will be loss of connection between the cells, the cells will then eventually begin to die, and when Alzheimer’s is advanced there will be significant shrinkage of the brain.

Confirmation of Alzheimer’s is almost impossible, but based on the symptoms and previous experiences, doctors can make the correct diagnosis most of the time.

Alzheimer’s Treatment

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s, but there are treatment options that help to manage the symptoms of the condition. Some available treatment options include Antipsychotics to manage the behaviour changes, Cholinesterase inhibitors and similar medications to manage memory loss. Coconut oil, fish oil and other alternative options to boost brain health and function, medication for depression and also medication for sleeping issues.

The prognosis of Dementia and Alzheimer’s patients.

For dementia patients, the outlook depends of the cause of the dementia. Some conditions like Parkinson’s are manageable, but there’s no way to stop or slow down the progression of the dementia. Vascular dementia can be slowed down in some cases, but it will still shorten a person’s lifespan.

Most types of dementia can’t be reversed, but there are some that are reversible. Irreversible symptoms continue to progress and cause impairment over time.

Alzheimer’s is a terminal condition with no known cure. The condition progresses in 3 stages, and the length in each stage varies. On average, an Alzheimer’s patient has a lifespan of four to eight years after diagnosis. However, some people can live up to 20 years with proper care and medication.