The Differences Between Alzheimer’s and Dementia

Recent life changes have forced me to learn the fundamental differences between Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. A month ago, my father fell and broke his hip. While he was in the hospital, we noticed that his memory seemed worse than normal. I asked if there was testing that could be done to determine the level of care that might be needed for him post surgery based on these noticeable symptoms. There had been many instances over the past three years that warranted some concern, but there seemed to be a drastic change in his confusion. I thought we should have him evaluated before his release from the hospital. One of the things we noticed during the process was his getting lost while driving to the dialysis center he had gone to every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday for the last three years. I would receive phone calls in the middle of the night from police officers asking in I come pick him up because he had lost his way. The first time it was the Hilliard police; the next time, the Dublin police; and the last time he ended up in Millersport, Ohio, at 12 midnight, forty miles one way from my home. Each officer said immediately that he seemed very confused and that I would need to pick him up. I tried countless times to have him see a doctor to be tested, to no avail. I was always told growing up that things happen for a reason, so I believe the broken hip was a way to let me know that he does have dementia.

I found out he might have dementia when I mentioned to a nurse that I thought he had Alzheimer’s disease. She said that she was not a doctor, but believed he has a form of dementia and should be tested to properly diagnose his symptoms. Late last week he was accessed by two different people, a doctor and a registered nurse, both concluding he does indeed have a form of dementia. I learned from my dad’s nurse that many people use the words “dementia” and “Alzheimer’s disease” interchangeably. However, they are not the same thing. You can be diagnosed with a form of dementia that is completely unrelated to Alzheimer’s disease. And though young people can develop dementia and/or Alzheimer’s disease, the risk increases as you age.

After conversations with my dad’s doctor and nurse, I learned how the two conditions differ. Dementia is a group of symptoms and is not a disease, where the symptoms affect mental tasks like memory and reasoning. Dementia can be caused by a variety of conditions, the most common of which is Alzheimer’s disease. As one’s dementia progresses, it can have a devastating impact on how they function independently. It is a major cause for older people and can cause an emotional and financial burden on families and caregivers. Early signs of dementia are often mild and easily overlooked. People with dementia have trouble keeping track of time and tend to lose their way in familiar settings. As dementia progresses, forgetfulness and confusion grow. It becomes harder to recall names and faces. Obvious signs of dementia include: repetitious questioning, poor decision-making, and concern for personal hygiene is no longer a priority.

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disease of the brain that slowly impairs memory and cognitive function. The exact cause has yet to be determined. Damage to the brain begins years before symptoms appear. Abnormal protein deposits form plaques and tangles in the brain of someone with Alzheimer’s disease. Connections between cells are lost and they begin to die, and in advanced cases, the brain shows significant shrinkage. Research shows it is impossible to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease 100 percent while a person is alive. The diagnosis can only be confirmed during an autopsy when the brain can be examined under a microscope. However, specialists are able to make the correct diagnosis up to 90 percent of the time.

Wesley Glen and Wesley Ridge offer Alzheimer’s disease/dementia care-specific programs. For information and additional information on the stages of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia contact Wesley Glen by calling 614-888-7492 and Wesley Ridge at 614-759-0023. Specialists are available to assist with questions about Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

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