You will read lots of different definitions and explanations online about Alzheimer’s and dementia, with information from a wide array of sources. Hopefully, we can clarify this for you and give you a much better understanding of how they are different and indeed how they are linked.
The NHS definition of dementia is ‘a progressive neurological disease which affects multiple brain functions, including memory’. It is categorised as a syndrome, that is, a group of related symptoms, linked to the gradual decline of cognitive brain function and negative impact on memory.
This can include loss of memory, speed of thought and overall mental agility. It can also cause difficulties with language, mental judgment and understanding of one’s surroundings or circumstances.
There are several different types of dementia, with Alzheimer’s, a progressive brain disease which over time impairs memory and cognitive functions, widely recognised as the most common form.
In the UK alone it has been estimated that nearly a million people live with Alzheimer’s, and that figure is growing all the time as people are now living longer.
“Eldermera is highly experienced in dealing with long term care cases of Alzheimer’s and all forms of dementia, as well as many other mental and physical conditions which require dedicated care provision.”
Put simply, dementia is broadly a collection of symptoms pertaining to loss of brain function, whilst Alzheimer’s is defined as a disease with more defined symptoms. It is important to recognise that although symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s can often overlap, the treatment and ongoing management for each entails differing approaches and packages of care provision.
This is complicated further as some patients can have ‘mixed dementia’ where, for example, they may have Alzheimer’s as well as other conditions like Dementia with Lewy Bodies (DLB) or vascular dementia.
Alzheimer’s is not always easy to diagnose, as it takes years to develop, can sometimes be seen as forgetfulness as part of natural ageing, and often overlaps with other conditions. Its exact cause is still subject to research, but it is linked to family health history, lifestyle, head injuries in the past and cardiovascular disease. Alzheimer’s affects every patient in a different way and to a varying degree of severity.
There are several other main forms of dementia for you to be aware of if you or a family member are considering long term care needs. These include:
Vascular dementia or vascular cognitive impairment is associated with the reduction of blood flow to the brain. This can be caused by a stroke (stroke-related dementia) or when small blood vessels in the brain are damaged (subcortical vascular dementia).
Dementia with Lewy Bodies (DLB)
DLB is a deteriorating form of dementia which can cause difficulties with spatial awareness, loss of memory and cognitive functions for problem-solving. As well as visual hallucinations, sleep disturbance, unsteadiness and fainting, it can also cause a slowing of movement, muscle tremors and stiffness, all symptoms seen in Parkinson’s disease.
Frontotemporal dementia (FTD)
Often called Pick’s disease, FTD occurs when brain cells in our frontal and temporal lobes are damaged, causing adverse changes to decision making personality, emotional behaviours, language skills and understanding. Different FTD conditions include Behavioural variant FTD (bvFTD), semantic dementia and progressive nonfluent aphasia. FTD is also linked to motor neurone disease.
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