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Elderly Man

The Difference Between Alzheimer’s and Dementia


Posted on November 17, 2013 by Atria Senior Living


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A frequently asked question to staff members at assisted living communities is what the difference is between Alzheimer’s and dementia?

When an individual begins to display signs of memory loss and confusion, the most common fear is that the symptoms are related to Alzheimer's disease, or AD. However, these symptoms can have a variety of causes that may or may not be the result of AD. The following is an in-depth look at both AD and dementia-like symptoms, which includes information on how the two are related, as well as how they differ.

Dementia is a term used to describe a set of distinct symptoms that may be indicative of an illness but, in itself, is not an actual disease. In other words, dementia-like symptoms are the effects of a particular condition and not the actual cause. The causes of these symptoms can range in severity from mild, age-related forgetfulness to severe illnesses like AD. Combined, symptoms often affect various aspects of life, including cognitive abilities, social skills, emotional stability and more. In most cases, this set of symptoms includes the following:

  • Memory loss. This can include both short-term and long-term memory loss, but especially involves a failure to remember relatively new information.
  • Language difficulties. For example, using the wrong words to describe a particular object, inverting letters, etc.
  • Problems with coordination, balance and/or motor skills.
  • Paranoia and agitation.
  • Poor judgment.
  • Irrational thinking. For example, arguing over the day of the week or other indisputable facts.
  • Shortened attention span.
  • Inappropriate behavior.
  • Hallucinations.

There are various illnesses which may cause the symptoms listed above, the most common of which is Alzheimer's disease. In fact, this illness accounts for up to 70 percent of all cases of dementia. Other cases can be attributed to a variety of illnesses, including Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease, vascular conditions resulting from a stroke, vitamin deficiencies and protein-related illnesses.

No matter the cause of dementia-like characteristics, most patients experience a gradual increase in memory loss, confusion and other related symptoms. For this reason, seeking treatment is essential in preventing potentially harmful complications. The risks associated with progressive dementia include those related to both physical and mental health. For example, untreated symptoms may result in the following complications:

  • Poor nutrition. Advanced dementia-related symptoms almost always result in a patient's refusal to nourish their bodies with food and water. This can have devastating effects that include dehydration, extreme weight loss, weakened immunity, reduced physical strength and more.
  • A decline in personal safety. Since symptoms like memory loss and confusion affect daily activities like driving, cooking, etc, patients are at an increased risk of harming themselves and others when they try to perform these tasks.
  • Sleep disturbances. This usually includes sleeping at odd hours and in short intervals.
  • Delirium. Often frightening for both the patients and loved ones, delirium is characterized by severely impaired mental clarity, hallucinations and extreme confusion.
  • Poor communication. In many cases, dementia-related symptoms progress to the point of an inability to remember commonly used words, family members' names and faces, etc.

Treatment for these patients may involve a number of methods, including medications and non-drug therapies. Although there is no cure for AD and various other causes of dementia-related symptoms, there are several available treatments that may improve cognitive function and physical health.

One common service for patients with Alzheimer's disease and other dementia-related conditions involves memory care from assisted living communities. These communities provide various levels of service and care that can significantly reduce the risk of complications, as well as improve overall health and quality of life.

Atria Senior Living provides independent and assisted living communities nationwide with multiple locations that offer memory care for older adults that suffer from Alzheimer’s and dementia. Contact us today to find a community near you.


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