HEALTH

The Difference Between Dementia And Alzheimer's Disease Explained

21/09/2017 6:18 PM AEST | Updated 22/09/2017 2:33 AM AEST

It’s common for people to think dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are just two terms for exactly the same thing - but they aren’t.

As Professor Graham Stokes, Bupa’s global director for Dementia Care, puts it: “In a nutshell, dementia is an umbrella term for symptoms that affect your mental cognitive skills, like memory and communication.

“Alzheimer’s, on the other hand, is one of the diseases that can cause dementia.

“It’s by far the most common, accounting for about two thirds of all dementia cases, which is why people often get the two confused.”

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To coincide with World Alzheimer’s Day (21 September) and World Alzheimer’s Month (September), charities are urging members of the public to become clued up on signs and symptoms.

Paola Barbarino, CEO of Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI), told HuffPost UK: “World Alzheimer’s Month is an opportunity to learn more about dementia and reduce your risk. It’s vitally important that the public learns how to recognise the symptoms of dementia and to take warning signs seriously.”

She said educating people about dementia can reduce stigma and challenge any misinformation which currently surrounds the disease. This is especially important as it can “stop or delay essential diagnosis”.

So, what is dementia?

As previously mentioned, dementia is not a disease in itself, it’s a word used to describe a group of symptoms that occur when brain cells stop working properly.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, but there are also other types including dementia with Lewy bodies, vascular dementia, Parkinson’s dementia and frontotemporal dementia. 

Common signs and symptoms of dementia include:

:: Memory loss

:: Difficulty performing familiar tasks

:: Problems with language

:: Disorientation to time and place

:: Poor or decreased judgement

:: Problems keeping track of things

:: Misplacing things

:: Changes in mood and behaviour

:: Trouble with images and spatial relationships

:: Withdrawal from work or social activities.

What is Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is a physical disease of the brain, which affects more than 520,000 people in the UK. It also accounts for around 60% of all dementia cases - which is why it can be easy to confuse the two.

The disease typically affects those over the age of 65, however that’s not to say younger people can’t be affected.

Alzheimer’s occurs when proteins build up in the brain and form structures called ‘plaques’ and ‘tangles’. These structures lead to the loss of connections between nerve cells, which eventually kill the nerve cells, resulting in a loss of brain tissue. 

People with the disease also have a shortage of chemical messengers in the brain, according to the Alzheimer’s Society, meaning signals aren’t transmitted around the brain as effectively. 

With all of this going on, the brain slowly deteriorates over time - leading to more severe symptoms and a gradual loss of independence.

Alzheimer’s Research UK lists typical early symptoms of this specific disease as:

:: Regularly forgetting recent events, names and faces

:: Becoming increasingly repetitive - for example, repeating questions after a very short interval

:: Regularly misplacing items or putting them in odd places

:: Uncertainty about the date or time of day

:: Becoming unsure of whereabouts or getting lost

:: Problems finding the right words

:: Becoming low in mood, anxious or irritable, losing self-confidence or showing less interest in what’s happening.

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