According to Alz.org, a leader in Alzheimer’s information and research, there are more than 50 million people who suffer from some form of dementia in the world. Of those 50 million, 5.8 have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in the United States alone. Those 5.8 million Alzheimer’s patients have over 16 million caregivers – not to mention the number who care for those with dementia or other memory loss diseases. The term Dementia is a blanket term for a complex set of diseases, injuries, and neurochemical imbalances which ultimately steal memories, personalities, and the ability to care for oneself.
What exactly is Dementia? How does it differ from Alzheimer’s disease? The truth is that Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia, not a separate disease. Many older people are handed an Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis when in fact they may be experiencing a different type of dementia altogether. Getting the right diagnosis is key to finding the right treatments and the best care going forward.
Dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease, and Memory Loss With Age
The term dementia has turned into a dumping ground for a variety of medical issues, all of which lead to cognitive impairment, memory loss, and personality and mood changes. According to the National Institutes for Health’s National Institute on Aging, dementia is defined as “the loss of cognitive functioning,” which means the impairment of the ability to reason, recall facts or memories, and think clearly. It can also mean changes in personality, causing mood swings and pervasive issues such as anger or depression.
The truth is that we all face some form of memory loss as we age. Neurons don’t fire as well as they used to as your brain ages, and connections can be altered or can die off from things such as smoking, poor diet, and lack of mobility. However, even those who follow a good diet and exercise regularly can find themselves with a dementia diagnosis. It is important to note that while some memory loss is to be expected, anything which affects your day to day living should be brought up and discussed with your doctor. Memory loss with age should be an occasional forgetfulness, not a constant battle to remember things.
Types of Dementia
There are many types of dementia which fall under the overall term. A few are:
- Lewy Body Dementia – related to Parkinson’s disease, Lewy Body dementia is the buildup of Lewy bodies in the areas of the brain which controls motor function, speech, and personality. This disease affects approximately 1.7 million Americans, but accounts for only about 10 percent of dementia cases.
- Vascular Dementia – the second-most cause of dementia behind Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia is brought on by a vascular episode such as a stroke or other brain-bleed event. One-third of people who have a stroke go on to have a dementia diagnosis, according to Roderick Corriveau, a program director at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. This accounts for almost 10 percent of dementia cases.
- Frontotemporal lobar degeneration – affects areas of the brain involved in personality, language and behavior. It accounts for less than 10 percent of dementia cases.
Memory loss with age is the natural loss of cognitive function as the human brain ages. There can be general forgetfulness, recall issues, and logical thinking problems, as well as some slight changes in mood or personality. The important difference between memory loss with age and dementia is that dementia affects every day, day-to-day living activities, while occasional memory loss or searching for words is an unavoidable aspect of aging.
Symptoms of Dementia
What are the symptoms of dementia? There are a few universal symptoms, no matter what type of dementia you or your loved one may be facing. These are:
- Short Term Recall Issues – Difficulty recalling recent activities, such as not remembering an activity from the day before, or even from the morning to the afternoon.
- Long Term Recall Issues – Things such as not recognizing a family member, long time friend, or activities which happened in the past.
- Loss of Vocabulary – Always searching for words, or forgetting common words in common situations.
- Mood Changes – Irrational or improperly focused anger, depression, or other changes in mood which can be short term or long lasting.
- Visual or Spatial issues – Dementia can affect the visual processing centers, making things like hand-eye-coordination difficult.
- Cognitive difficulty – A fancy way to say that it’s hard to think, reason, or use logic in day to day activities.
These symptoms, in small amounts, may happen to anyone as they age. One symptom is not enough to declare a clinical diagnosis of dementia. A pattern of behavior, as well as a battery of testing, can determine if the issues are truly dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, or if they are simply the effects of aging.
Dementia or Alzheimer’s?
Memory problems are usually the first and most prominent sign of Alzheimer’s. However, people with Alzheimer’s may have trouble doing everyday things: driving a car, cooking a meal, or paying bills. Sufferers may ask the same questions continuously, get lost easily, lose things or put them in odd places, and find even simple things confusing. Of course, this echoes Dementia closely.
Finding a good doctor and doing the right testing can determine which type of dementia may be at fault. Though it may seem like only one memory loss disease can strike at a time, there are many people who have concurrent problems, such as frontotemporal lobar degeneration and Alzheimer’s disease. Bleeding in the brain, such as a stroke or other vascular issue, can occur after a diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer’s and cause further issues.
In the end, only a doctor can diagnose true Alzheimer’s disease, and set a course of action. If you’re afraid that you may be suffering from a form of dementia or Alzheimer’s, talk to your doctor about your options. Most people with mild cognitive impairment can live full and happy lives at home. However, if your loved one has been diagnosed and is progressing through their disease rapidly, it may be time to look into facility care. Facilities like Landmark Memory Care cater to the unique and demanding issues that cognitive problems create. From dressing and bathing to eating and exercising, these facilities allow your loved one the around-the-clock support they require.
What Can You Do?
There’s no one method for “preventing” memory loss, but there are a few easy things you can do to help your odds of staying active and bright through your old age. You can eat a balanced diet that is high in proteins, vitamins, and healthy fats. Regular exercise has been shown to help support your whole body- including your brain. Even a simple thing like taking a 30 minute walk every day can reduce your risk for many diseases – both cardiovascular and cognitive. Stopping smoking, if you’ve been a long term smoker, is often recommended. In all, a good diet, regular exercise, and a strong social presence have all been known to help keep people more active and aware as they age.
If you do find yourself looking for care, either for yourself or a loved one, for a cognitive issue, talk to Landmark Memory Care to see if facility living may offer a better quality of life to you or your loved one. You can check our Activities of Daily Living sheet for information on when it may be time to move to a facility, and our Cost Comparison sheet to help understand the cost of living in a facility.