While dementia affects over 850,000 people in the UK alone, the understanding of exactly what dementia means is limited. What is the fundamental difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia? The two terms are often confused when talking about the decline of one’s mental capacity. Cera helps to clarify the differences below:
The NHS describes dementia as: “a syndrome (a group of related symptoms) associated with an ongoing decline of brain functioning.” This information is key as it communicates the most common misconception about dementia; that dementia itself is a disease. Rather, the term dementia is used to describe a collection of symptoms relating to reduced brain activity, including memory loss, movement, and language. If you think about using the word ‘dementia’ as if you were saying ‘stomach ache’ it can be easier to understand. For example, there can be a variety of reasons for one to have a stomach ache, but the ache itself is merely a symptom. Similarly, with dementia, if one is suffering from dementia there is an underlying reason behind their decrease in mental capacities.
Alzheimer’s disease affects about 500,000 people across the UK and is the most common form of dementia. As it is a progressive disorder, Alzheimer’s can get worse over time. Initially, it can cause minor memory loss, and eventually it can change behaviours and personalities. Alzheimer’s is thought to be caused by an abnormal buildup of proteins in the brain which leads to an interruption of the communication between nerve cells and eventually the death of the cells it is affecting. At first, Alzheimer’s is usually found to be present in the hippocampus, the part of our brain that controls the formation of new memories; hence why short-term memory loss is one of the first signs that someone might be suffering from Alzheimer’s. While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, soon after diagnosis, doctors may prescribe drugs that increase the amount of neurons being released by cells in the brain, in an attempt to combat the effects of Alzheimer’s. Emotional support can be the most effective way to manage Alzheimer’s; talking regularly with loved ones who are suffering and trying to look beyond their complicated behaviours is a great place to start. Helping a loved one to maintain cognitive ability through doing puzzles together and reading has also been shown to be effective in helping retain as much brain function as possible.
Vascular dementia is the second most common type of dementia, affecting almost 20% of all dementia patients. Vascular dementia is caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain, usually due to a series of strokes. Unlike the common stroke, which results in slurred speech and a numbness of the face, the kind of strokes that cause vascular dementia are usually called mini-strokes, and can go almost completely unnoticed. However, with each new stroke the patient’s condition is likely to worsen, so whilst Alzheimer’s can be a slow progressing type of dementia, vascular dementia can become more severe a lot more quickly, with each stroke affecting brain function with greater severity. Due to the nature of vascular dementia, the worsening of the condition can be managed to an easier degree than other types of dementia. One can make sure their physical health is in the best possible condition; eating a healthy and balanced diet and exercising can be two extremely effective ways of managing the development of the disease. There are also a variety of medicines that can help manage the causes of the strokes, aspirin can help lower the risk of blood clots while statins can help treat high cholesterol.
If a loved one is suffering from any type of dementia, we hope this guide has shed some light on understanding their condition. If you feel that you would like more information, you can visit the Alzheimer’s Society website here.
If you believe that your loved one needs full-time, live-in care, or just a few hours a week of elderly care to help them with their daily activities, please call Cera on 020 3034 4782; we can help put together a comprehensive, personalised care plan for you.