The Difference Between Dementia and Alzheimer’s

July 11, 2013

Elderly Senior Home Care Looking at PhotosRecently a professional in the assisted living industry told me that “We accept residents with dementia, but not Alzheimer’s.”  Somehow the implication was that dementia is mild and manageable while Alzheimer’s is more advanced and more challenging to serve.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Understanding Dementia

Dementia, simply, is brain failure.  The causes are varied, but just as our knees and hips wear out, sometimes our brains do as well.  Dementia refers to symptoms such as memory loss, frequent repetition of stories and questions, and poor judgment.  Common causes of dementia include Alzheimer’s Disease, vascular dementia, Lewy Body syndrome and fronto-temporal dementia.  While many dementias result from chemical changes in the brain, dementia may also result from physical injury.  Boxers may suffer dementia due to the repeated blows to the head during their careers.

What is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s Disease, the most common cause of dementia, is linked to the formation in the brain of abnormal protein deposits called amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles.  The amyloid plaques develop on the outside of brain cells and the tangles, also called tau, develop in the interior of the cells.  Researchers believe that these deposits reduce the efficiency of brain activity.

Alzheimer’s was named after Dr. Alois Alzheimer.  In the early 1900s, he performed an autopsy on the brain of a woman he had been working with.  Her symptoms prior to her passing included language problems, reduced memory and unpredictable behavior.  The autopsy revealed the plaques and tangles described above that are now considered hallmarks of the disease.

Are There Cures?

There are no cures for dementia.  While there are many things we can do to ameliorate the symptoms, dementia is chronic, progressive, and terminal.  Given this grim fact, it is important to focus on providing the best care possible that recognizes and adjusts to the limitations of dementia patients.

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