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What Is the Difference Between Dementia and Alzheimer’s?

By | March 18th, 2019

Many people wonder whether there are differences between dementia and Alzheimer’s. Although dementia and Alzheimer’s are often used simultaneously, dementia is not a disease. Rather, the term describes symptoms that affect the brain. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia. However, there are other types of dementia, too.

What Are the Symptoms of Dementia?

Dementia is a decline in mental abilities that leads to these symptoms:

  • Memory loss or confusion
  • Personality changes affecting daily life
  • Difficulty with judgment or reasoning
  • Trouble communicating or socializing

Those with dementia are unable to keep track of time or remember a list of products. Similarly, they can get lost while driving or forget where they placed items. Dementia can also cause irritability or aggression.

What Is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s disease makes up 60–80 percent of dementia cases. The disease affects about 50 million people worldwide. The accumulation of beta-amyloid plaques starts the disease. It is a toxic protein that appears in Alzheimer’s patients’ brains. They often form decades before Alzheimer’s symptoms appear. As a result, the brain experiences inflammation and cell death. That’s when people develop Alzheimer’s symptoms like memory loss.

What Are the Early Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease?

Memory loss is the symptom most associated with Alzheimer’s disease, largely because it’s the most disturbing for most people. But it’s not the only early symptom of Alzheimer’s disease. People with Alzheimer’s disease usually live for eight to ten years after symptoms begin. Those include:

  • Short-term memory loss
  • Trouble making decisions and planning
  • Difficulty communicating
  • Isolation from friends and family

Those with Alzheimer’s often ask repetitive questions, forget names or appointments. In addition, they have difficulty with finances or following directions. They may distance themselves from loved ones. Alzheimer’s typically happens in 7 stages. This guide describes symptoms your loved one could experience at each stage.

What Are the Common Types of Dementia?

The four most common types of dementia are Alzheimer’s, vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia (LBD) and frontotemporal dementia (FTD).

What Is Vascular Dementia?

Vascular dementia is the second most common form of dementia. It accounts for about 10 percent of dementia cases. The term refers to issues with memory, reasoning or judgment. Vascular dementia is caused by conditions that harm blood vessels or limit blood flow to the brain. A stroke can cause brain damage and vascular dementia symptoms. More often, someone experiences mini-strokes that go unnoticed by doctors. The mini-strokes cause their cognition to slowly deteriorate. Conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure could have the same effect. Nevertheless, symptoms differ depending on what area of the brain is affected. Common symptoms that appear after a stroke include memory loss or trouble communicating.

How Can I Reduce My Risk for Vascular Dementia?

Try to eat a healthy diet. Also, many researchers recommend a Mediterranean-style diet. For example, the MIND diet has been shown to positively impact heart health. “So many [dementia] risk factors are related to heart disease,” Martha Clare Morris, creator of the MIND diet said. In addition, exercise often. Recent studies found that exercise can actually slow down the aging process. Similarly, avoid consuming too much alcohol or smoking. Finally, monitor your blood pressure and cholesterol.

What Is Lewy Body Dementia?

Lewy body dementia is the third most common form of dementia. It makes up about 5–10 percent of dementia cases. It usually affects people over age 50. Lewy body dementia is caused by deposits of a protein called alpha-synuclein in the brain’s neurons. The deposits, known as Lewy bodies, appear in the brain’s cortex. Therefore, Lewy bodies cause dementia symptoms.

Are There Differences Between Lewy Body Dementia and Alzheimer’s?

People with Lewy body dementia can have Alzheimer’s symptoms. However, Alzheimer’s patients generally do not experience hallucinations until the later stages. In contrast, those with Lewy body dementia usually experience symptoms like paranoia and hallucinations early on. Additionally, they could have difficulty with motor skills, sleeping, thinking or reasoning. Their memory usually declines more rapidly than those with Alzheimer’s. Unlike Alzheimer’s patients, those with LBD have temporary moments of clarity. “Symptoms like lethargy can vary from day-to-day or even within the day,” Dr. Sarah Kremen said. “Sometimes patients seem crystal-clear in their thinking and sometimes they seem very confused. But this is not seen in all patients.” Alternatively, Alzheimer’s patients do not go in and out of this state. People with Lewy body dementia can also have Alzheimer’s pathology.

What Are the Two Types of Lewy Body Dementia?

Lewy bodies can also be found in the brains of patients with Parkinson’s. Moreover, Lewy body dementia can refer to dementia with Lewy bodies or dementia caused by Parkinson’s. However, Parkinson’s initially affects motors skills. Lewy body dementia usually affects memory or causes hallucinations first.

What Is Frontotemporal Dementia?

Frontotemporal dementia refers to conditions that affect the brain’s frontal and temporal lobes. It is caused by abnormal amounts of the protein tau or TDP-43 in their brains. When parts of the brain shrink, it impacts judgment. Therefore, people with this condition may have trouble in social situations. Scientists have found certain genes lead to the condition, but it is still unknown why these parts of the brain shrink.

What Are the Symptoms of Frontotemporal Dementia?

While FTD doesn’t always affect memory, it often leads to personality changes. As result, these changes can be mistaken for a mental health condition. Usually, people between 40–45 are usually affected. Common symptoms include mood changes, uncharacteristic behavior and no longer caring what people think. In addition, they may experience memory loss.

Are There Other Types of Dementia?

Yes, there are various other types of dementia. “It’s important to provide support not only for the patient, but also for the caregiver,” according to Dr. Stephen Chen. “Some of the behavioral disturbances or psychiatric symptoms associated with all the dementias are often the most challenging aspect of managing these illnesses.” Learn more about other forms of dementia here.

[ Next: Could Artificial Intelligence Predict Who Will Develop Alzheimer’s? ]

 

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