To help raise awareness and understanding of dementia this Dementia Action Week, we are providing an information hub on all things dementia related. In today’s blog, we look at the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia and answer some of the most frequently asked questions.
What is the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia?
The terms ‘Alzheimer’s’ and ‘dementia’ are often used interchangeably, but dementia is not a disease in its own right. It is actually the name for a group of symptoms that commonly include problems with memory, thinking, problem solving, language and perception.
Dementia is caused by different diseases that affect the brain and Alzheimer’s disease is the most common of these.
What is Alzheimer’s disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is a physical disease that affects the brain. Abnormal structures called ‘plaques’ and ‘tangles’ build up inside the brain. These disrupt how nerve cells work and communicate with each other, and eventually cause the cells to die. People with Alzheimer’s also have a shortage of some important chemicals in their brain. Reduced levels of these chemicals mean that messages don’t travel around as well as they should.
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive condition, so symptoms (including confusion, problems with speech, personality changes and difficulty making decisions) develop gradually over many years and eventually become more severe.
What are the other common types of dementia?
- Vascular dementia – this is the second most common type of dementia, where a lack of oxygen to the brain causes nerve cells to die. This can be caused by a stroke, a series of mini strokes or a disease of the small blood vessels in the brain.
- Mixed dementia – where someone has more than one type of dementia and a mix of symptoms.
- Dementia with Lewy bodies – where abnormal structures – Lewy bodies – form in the brain and cause nerve cells to die.
- Frontotemporal dementia – where clumps of abnormal protein form in front and side parts of the brain and cause the death of nerve cells.
What are the symptoms of dementia?
The symptoms that someone with dementia experiences depends on the damaged parts of the brain and the disease that is causing the dementia. Everyone will experience symptoms in their own way, however, there are some common early symptoms that you can look out for, including:
- Memory loss
- Struggling to concentrate
- Finding it hard to complete familiar tasks
- Difficulty finding the right words in a conversation or struggling to follow a conversation
- Mood changes
- Confusion over times, places and dates
If you are concerned about a loved one showing these symptoms, it’s important you take them to see their GP as soon as possible.
Look out tomorrow for part two of our FAQs on dementia, where we will cover how to reduce the risk of developing dementia and where to turn when a loved one is diagnosed.