June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month! It gives us the opportunity to hold a conversation about the brain, and share the fact that the different forms of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are a major public health issue.
There is often confusion regarding the difference between Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. They are not the same! These terms have historically been used interchangeably, but they have different definitions. Dementia is an overall term and syndrome, not a disease, which encompasses many symptoms. Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia. There are several types of dementia. Not everyone with dementia is a victim of Alzheimer’s disease, although it is the most common type of dementia.
Dementia is a decline in mental function that may be reversible or treatable, depending on the disease process at the root of the dementia. Alzheimer’s disease irreversibly destroys memory and thinking skills, along with the inability to carry out simple tasks to completion. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s and it is always fatal. Dementia can occur at any stage of life, whereas Alzheimer’s is more likely to occur in elderly population.
Other causes of dementia (besides Alzheimer’s disease) include: vascular (hypertension), Lewy Bodies, Huntington’s chorea, drug or alcohol addiction, Parkinson’s disease, thyroid disease, brain tumors, adverse reaction to medication, vitamin deficiency, frontotemporal damage or stroke, and metabolic or electrolyte abnormalities.
Symptoms of Dementia
- Decline in memory
- Change in thought process
- Poor judgment – inability to problem solve
- Loss of attention span
- Diminished communication skills – loss of language capabilities
- Perceptive disability
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease
- Difficulty remembering newly learned information
- Disorientation and apathy
- Mood and behavior changes – depression or hallucinations
- Loss of swallowing abilities
- Gait changes – history of falls or loss of balance
- Loss of bowel and bladder control
- Sleep disturbances
There is a degree of overlapping of symptoms between the two, which include the inability to recall names of people, places and things, and confusion or disorientation.
Treatment for Alzheimer’s is limited to temporarily improving symptoms or slowing the progression of the disease with medications such as Aricept and Exelon, which assist with memory loss. Alzheimer’s disease is also treated with anti-psychotic medications that aid in behavioral changes. Antidepressants and sleep aids provide some treatment for those with mood changes and insomnia.
Treatment for dementia depends on the underlying cause such as treating high blood pressure, rehab and anticoagulant therapy for stroke victims, addressing any and all metabolic or electrolyte disorders, treating Parkinson’s with specific anti-Parkinson’s medications such as Carbidopa/Levodopa, and treating Lewy Body dementia with Alzheimer’s medications discussed above. Alcohol and drug addiction will be treated with medications and rehab therapy, which may cause the dementia to lessen or be cured altogether.
Simply stated, dementia is an umbrella term that covers many types of symptoms and causes. Spread the word!
Written By: Care Manager - Terrie Ware, RN