Symptoms such as memory loss, confusion, and mood swings, all of which are commonly associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, are concerning, especially in a family member.
Family members who witness troubling symptoms will want to seek prompt medical intervention on their loved one’s behalf, as these are serious conditions that demand proper treatment. It’s worth noting that key distinctions exist between Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Knowing the difference can be helpful to family members transitioning into caregiver roles.
Symptoms, Similarities, and Differences: Dementia vs. Alzheimer’s
The best way to think about dementia vs. Alzheimer’s is that dementia describes a broad group of symptoms, while Alzheimer’s is a specific diagnosis. In other words, Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia, but it’s not the only type.
Syndrome vs. Disease
Dementia is not a disease in itself. It’s a syndrome or a group of symptoms that occur together. Dementia may be caused by a number of different diseases, Alzheimer’s being the most common. An individual may also have mixed dementia, which describes dementia that’s caused by two or more different diseases that are present at the same time. While dementia describes a cluster of symptoms, Alzheimer’s describes an underlying cause.
Some symptoms typically associated with dementia include:
- Declining memory
- Changes to thinking skills
- Poor judgment or reasoning
- Decreased focus
- Difficulty paying attention
- Changes in language and communication abilities
Individuals with Alzheimer’s experience many of these symptoms. For example, a common early indicator of Alzheimer’s is memory loss. People with Alzheimer’s may also experience confusion and disorientation, behavioral changes, and an impaired ability to speak, symptoms that all fall under the umbrella of dementia.
Alzheimer’s and the Brain
Alzheimer’s is a neurological disease that typically begins to damage the brain several years before symptoms become evident. While Alzheimer’s has no known cause or cure, researchers confirm the disease forms abnormal protein deposits in the brain, which then cause brain cells to lose their connections. Ultimately these cells die, and in advanced cases of Alzheimer’s, the brain shrinks.
In addition to Alzheimer’s, degenerative diseases such as Huntington’s and Parkinson’s as well as vascular disease, stroke, and HIV can also contribute to dementia.
Find Out More About Dementia vs. Alzheimer’s
For additional information on dementia vs. Alzheimer’s, consider these resources:
- Take a closer look at the distinctions between dementia and Alzheimer’s.
- WebMD, “What Is Dementia?” Dig deeper into dementia’s causes, as well as its common symptoms.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 10 Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s. Learn about early indicators of Alzheimer’s.
- Mayo Clinic, “Alzheimer’s Disease.” Gain additional insight into the causes and symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s: Facts and Statistics
Clinical data offers a helpful way of understanding who is at risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s, as well as potential treatments and their costs.
Prevalence and Demographics of Dementia
The World Health Organization provides context for the prevalence of dementia:
- Across the world, around 50 million individuals have dementia; roughly 10 million new cases are reported every year.
- Alzheimer’s contributes to somewhere between 60% and 70% of dementia cases.
- Dementia is much more common among older adults than younger people, though it is not considered a normal part of the aging process.
Meanwhile, a report from the Alzheimer’s Association provides data specific to the United States, noting that roughly 5.8 million Americans live with Alzheimer’s. This number encompasses 1 out of 10 adults over the age of 65 and 1 out of 3 adults over the age of 85.
Populations at Risk for Alzheimer’s
Scientists say Alzheimer’s has no single cause. Rather, multiple factors likely make an individual at risk for the disease, including genetics, lifestyle, and environmental factors.
- The most significant risk factor by far is age. Most individuals with Alzheimer’s are 65 or older.
- Family history is another factor. Those who have a parent or sibling with Alzheimer’s are more likely to have it themselves.
- In rare cases, Alzheimer’s may be linked to deterministic genes (that is, genes that directly cause the disease). This is true in fewer than 1% of Alzheimer’s cases.
- Those who sustain head injuries are at greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s in the future.
- Those who have cardiovascular diseases are also at higher risk for Alzheimer’s.
Research also shows that older Latinx people are about one and a half times more likely to have Alzheimer’s than older white people. Black people are twice as likely to have it as white people.
Health Care Costs for Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s has no known cure. People with advanced Alzheimer’s or dementia symptoms often benefit from specialized “memory care” facilities, where they can receive around-the-clock support from specialized caregivers. According to an article from AARP, the average cost of memory care is $5,000 per month.
Medicare and Medicare Advantage typically won’t pay for room and board in memory care facilities, but they often will cover the cost of medical treatments and nursing care.
Mental and Physical Progression of Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s is a degenerative disease, which means its effects worsen over time. Experts say that the progression of Alzheimer’s typically involves three stages: early, middle, and late.
People in the early stage of Alzheimer’s may still live independently and function fairly “normally,” though they may be frustrated by memory lapses. Symptoms are usually mild, and may include:
- Difficulty finding the right word or remembering someone’s name
- Forgetting something they just read
- Losing or misplacing important objects
Those in the middle stages of the disease usually require additional levels of care. Their symptoms are moderate, and may encompass:
- Forgetting events in their personal history
- Having a hard time remembering personal information, such as their phone number
- Experiencing confusion about where they are or what day it is
- Wandering and getting lost
Those with late-stage Alzheimer’s experience the most severe symptoms, and typically need extensive care. Symptoms can include:
- Needing around-the-clock help with personal hygiene and care
- A declining sense of reality or awareness of circumstances
- Difficulty communicating
- Difficulty with basic physical tasks, such as walking or sitting still
- Increased susceptibility to infections
On average, a person with this disease will live four to eight years past their diagnosis, though in some cases they may live as long as 20 years. The middle stage of Alzheimer’s usually lasts the longest.
Treatment Options for Alzheimer’s
Memory care facilities provide extended assistance for those with Alzheimer’s, and they’re designed in a way that minimizes patient confusion. These facilities are also structured to ensure patient safety, meaning there is little risk of patients wandering off and becoming lost or hurt.
While this disease has no cure, medications are available that can minimize memory loss and mediate other behavioral issues, such as changes in sleep patterns.
Resources for Addressing and Treating Dementia and Alzheimer’s
Dementia and Alzheimer’s patients, as well as their family members and caregivers, can find it helpful to learn about the interventions currently available, as well as some general strategies for living a rewarding life even with this difficult diagnosis.
Early Alzheimer’s and Dementia Prevention
A healthy lifestyle can minimize the risk factors associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s. Some basic practices include:
- Eat a balanced and nutrient-rich diet.
- Get regular physical activity.
- Stop smoking, and moderate your alcohol consumption.
- Consider cognitive training, including brain exercises for dementia prevention.
Handling an Alzheimer’s or Dementia Diagnosis
Getting an Alzheimer’s or dementia diagnosis is never easy, but some basic practices can help you cope.
- Consult with a medical professional as early as possible, and develop a game plan to slow the disease’s progress.
- Ask your close family members to help you share your diagnosis with other friends and loved ones. Share educational resources to help them understand the condition.
- Consider counseling, which can help you process the emotions associated with a life-changing diagnosis.
At every step, maintain open communication with your doctor. Consider this resource:
Choosing Alzheimer’s Treatment Resources
Ultimately, people with Alzheimer’s often require full-time care in an assisted living facility. Choosing the right facility is important, as it encompasses both financial and quality-of-life factors. Take a look at these resources as you weigh this important decision:
- Alzheimer’s Association, “Choosing Care Providers.” Review some of the factors to consider when selecting a care provider.
- WebMD, “Treatment for Alzheimer’s Disease.” Learn more about medications that can help slow the disease’s progress.
- Verywell Health, “Using Government Assistance to Help Pay for Alzheimer’s Care.” Learn more about financial assistance for memory care.
Living a Full Life with Alzheimer’s and Dementia
Even with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia, patients and their families can enjoy a rewarding life together. These resources can help:
- Alzheimer’s Association, “Taking Care of Yourself.” Get tips on prioritizing your physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.
- WebMD, “If a Loved One Has Dementia.” Learn how to be a successful dementia caregiver.
Keep Current on Alzheimer’s and Dementia
A diagnosis of dementia, either caused by Alzheimer’s or something else, can be hard to deal with. Make sure you and your loved ones are armed with the right information about the disease’s progression as well as potential treatments.