To the average Joe, dementia and Alzheimer’s might seem like the same thing – after all, they both describe cognitive impairment that usually affects memory. But they aren’t, and understanding the distinction is essential.
As Dementia Australia explains on their website, “Dementia describes a collection of symptoms that are caused by disorders affecting the brain. It is not one specific disease.”
Dementia has many different forms, but the most common types are Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, Parkinson’s disease and dementia with Lewy bodies.
Because Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia (accounting for 50 to 70 per cent of all cases), it’s easy to get the two confused – especially since many forms share similar symptoms.
General signs of dementia include:
- Progressive, frequent memory loss
- Personality changes
- Apathy and withdrawal
- Difficulty performing everyday tasks
Alzheimer’s disease occurs when toxic proteins build up in the brain, creating plaques and tangles which interfere with connections between nerve cells, eventually killing the cells and causing a loss of brain tissue.
Specific symptoms for Alzheimer’s disease include:
- Progressive, frequent memory loss, particularly of recent events
- Vagueness in everyday conversation
- Lack of enthusiasm for usually enjoyable activities
- Slow to do routine tasks
- Forgetting well-known people or places
- Difficulty processing questions and instructions
- Mood swings and emotional unpredictability
- Declining social skills
For most dementia sufferers, the earlier the condition is diagnosed, the better they and their loved ones will be able to manage their health and the longer they’ll be able to stay independent. If you have any suspicions or concerns, always discuss them with a doctor.