As senior move managers who work with seniors and their families, we come in contact with many people who suffer from Alzheimer’s or dementia. These words are often used interchangeably when in fact they are two different things. In this blog, we’re discussing the differences between the two and some common myths about both.
Dementia is not an actual diagnosis. Instead, it is a collection of symptoms that affect someone’s ability to function on a daily basis, remember things or communicate effectively. There are several types of dementia and Alzheimer’s is the most common type, causing 50%-70% of dementia cases, according to the CDC. Other diseases that can cause dementia include Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, Creutzfeldt-Jakob, and vascular disease.
Other situations can cause dementia-like symptoms and can be reversed. For example, a thyroid condition or vitamin deficiency can cause memory loss and affect the ability to communicate, but resolving these issues can allow a patient to return to normal.
Common signs of dementia at the earlier stages include forgetfulness, being late and getting lost or confused in familiar settings. Dementia sufferers may start asking the same questions over and over, stop taking care of themselves, or have trouble remembering names or faces.
Alzheimer’s is a disease in the brain that progressively affects memory and cognitive ability. Protein deposits form and disturb the connections between brain cells, causing the ones that are cut off to die. The deposits most often start in the area of the brain that controls memory, language and thought, which is why memory loss and lack of communication are so prevalent in Alzheimer’s patients.
Symptoms of this disease usually appear after age 60, but the damage has been occurring years before the first symptoms are noticeable. After symptoms appear, the average life expectancy is eight years, but actual cases vary widely. There are no known cures for Alzheimer’s, only drugs that slow its progression in certain patients. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s Myths
Dementia is just part of aging – While memory loss tends to increase in some people as they get older, not everyone over a certain age has dementia. If it truly was part of the normal aging process, everyone in their later years would be forgetful and have trouble communicating. This obviously isn’t the case.
Only old people have dementia – Unfortunately, people as young as in their 30s have been found to have symptoms of dementia, and early-onset Alzheimer’s can develop in a person’s 50s.
People with dementia don’t know what’s going on or what they want – The part of the brain that controls awareness is separate from the communication portion. So, those who suffer from dementia or Alzheimer’s may know exactly what’s going on or what they want, they just can’t communicate effectively.
One of my parents had Alzheimer’s so I will too – While there may be some genetic connection with dementia and Alzheimer’s, only 5% of cases are familial, meaning there was more than one diagnosis in a particular family.
Alzheimer’s is caused by using aluminum pans, ingesting aspartame, having silver fillings, and getting flu shots – Theories about what causes Alzheimer’s are popular because it gives people hope that if they avoid certain things they can avoid ever having Alzheimer’s. Unfortunately, there is no evidence proving that any of these causes are legitimate, which means there is no way to guarantee you will never have the disease. However, as with most health-related issues, eating right and staying mentally and physically active may help deter the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
If you suspect a loved one is suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s, meet with a specialist who can make that determination and help you decide the best course of action.