Is there a difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s disease?

Dementia is a generalized term used to refer to brain-related loss of memory, communication and daily skills that hamper a person’s ability to live independently. As dementia progresses, the person’s self care habits decline and there are definite mood and personality changes. Loss of these skills becomes more pronounced as the dementia progresses. Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia that accounts for 60 percent to 80 percent of dementia cases states an article in the Bismarck Tribune.

What causes dementia?

Dementia is caused by the destruction of brain cells.  Much is still unknown about how or why people develop dementia.

A head injury, a stroke, a brain tumor or a problem like Alzheimer’s disease can damage brain cells. Some people have a family history of dementia. You also are more likely to develop dementia if you abuse alcohol, use tobacco products, have elevated blood pressure and/or cholesterol, Type 2 diabetes or high estrogen levels. You can greatly lower your risks by changing your personal habits to avoid alcohol and tobacco and working with your primary care physician to be sure any chronic diseases you have are well managed.

What are some common symptoms of dementia?

The most common symptom is memory loss, and this contributes to other problems. People with dementia may ask the same question repeatedly. They may forget how to do very common tasks. For instance, they may cook a meal and leave it on the stove because they forgot they were cooking. They forget common words or use the wrong words. They get lost trying to find places they once were capable of finding. They misplace things frequently. They have poor judgment, become moody and demonstrate other personality changes, such as becoming suspicious or fearful of people familiar to them.

What should I do if I think my family member has dementia?

It's important to get a diagnosis because there are some medical conditions that can cause similar symptoms but are very treatable. Ask your family member if you can make an appointment with his/her primary care doctor. Volunteer to accompany the individual to the appointment. Give the primary care doctor an advance call and share your concerns. And offer your family member love and support through this difficult time.

Is dementia curable?

It depends on the cause. Dementias caused by conditions such as a medication reaction or infection can be reversed with treatment. But progressive dementia, such as Alzheimer's disease, will continue to worsen over time. Still, early diagnosis is important because treatment can help delay symptoms and prevent other complications, such as strokes and blood clots that can develop from poorly managed medical conditions. It also gives the individual time to plan ahead while he/she can still make decisions.

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