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What is the Difference Between Alzheimer's and Dementia?

People tend to use the words ‘dementia’ and ‘Alzheimer’s’ interchangeably, as though they are the same thing - in fact, this is not the case.

What is Dementia?

Dementia is the umbrella term given to a number of symptoms that affect the brain. Someone with dementia is likely to experience a steady decline in their thinking ability, along with impaired memory and trouble communicating.

A diagnosis of dementia is similar to a that of a sore throat - it explains symptoms but doesn’t classify the illness. So dementia symptoms are a feature of Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease, although these conditions do not all follow the same progressions. For example, someone with Huntington’s or Parkinson’s may suffer from involuntary movements and twitches during the early stages.

Although there is no cure for dementia, many of those with the condition can expect to see improvements once the cause has been ascertained. Where dementia symptoms are the result of metabolic disorders, tumours, drugs or hypoglycemia, for example, the patient can expect to see a dramatic improvement once the underlying cause is treated.

What is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s is one of the most common forms of dementia, accounting for up to 70 percent of diagnosed cases. It is only possible to give an absolute diagnosis of Alzheimer’s during a post-mortem examination, but doctors can diagnose the disease with reasonable accuracy.

Protein deposits in the brain form tangles and plaques which disrupt communication between cells. As the cells die, brain function is lost, and over time the brain can shrink quite dramatically. Damage can occur many years before the first symptoms appear, and once the disease is set in motion, it is impossible to treat, although some of the symptoms can usually be allayed, at least for a time.

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s include depression, apathy, confusion, difficulty remembering recent conversations and events, a sense of disorientation and changes in behaviour. As the condition progresses, the individual can experience problems with walking, speaking and even swallowing, and will almost certainly require intensive one-to-one care.

The progression of Alzheimer’s tends to be quite slow, causing a gradual decline in the person’s mental processes over a period of around eight to 10 years. Most people are diagnosed over the age of 60, but there is an early-onset form of the disease which is believed to be caused by a faulty gene.

Mikis’ care story

In this short video, Nick and Maro explain their reasons for choosing Elder live-in care.

They discuss how live-in care has allowed Nick’s father Mikis to stay independent in his own home while making a new friend at the same time.

Coping with a Diagnosis of Dementia or Alzheimer’s

Receiving a diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer’s is a frightening time, both for the person and their immediate family and friends. Dementia symptoms are most common in the elderly, and of course, your loved one is bound to be worried about what the future holds for him or her.

It’s important to make plans at the earliest possible stage so that you and your loved one have a plan of action and understand what choices you have. Most older people are keen to stay in the familiar surroundings of their own homes, and thanks to an increase in elderly care options, this is now a viable alternative to a nursing home.

You will need to appoint someone to have Power of Attorney over your loved one’s financial affairs, for when he or she becomes unable to deal with them. Confusion over money can be an early symptom, so appointing someone to take charge of the bank account and savings is a vital step in ensuring that your relative is not defrauded by anyone.

Make their home as safe as possible, by installing grab rails in bathrooms, updating or installing smoke detectors and minimising slip and trip hazards. Some families use GPS tracking devices to keep an eye on relatives who might be prone to wandering, and if this is the case, it might be worth improving home security too.

Investigate In-home Care Options

Whether through local authorities or private care companies, you’ll find plenty of help is available, from a cleaner once a week through to 24/7 care from a live-in carer. Care at home is becoming the preferred option for many older people who can be frightened by the idea of moving into a residential care home. You need to make sure that any caregiver you employ is experienced in dementia care and Alzheimer’s care, as sufferers usually require a high degree of patience and understanding from those looking after them.

Arranging live-in dementia care assistance helps to keep your loved one safe in their own home, with a high degree of independent living. The constant presence of a dedicated carer can be a calming influence on your loved one while giving you peace of mind that he or she be being looked after around the clock.

Even if you are choosing to be their carer yourself, it’s important to make time for your own needs and those of your immediate family. Respite care gives you a much-needed break, and most private live-in care companies will create a package to suit your relative’s exact needs.

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