Many people use the term Alzheimer’s or dementia interchangeably, usually mistakenly to describe an elderly person who suffers from age related memory loss. Although the symptoms are similar, and the two can be interrelated, there are definite differences in the two conditions.
Where there is any decline in cognition caused by damage to the brain, such as memory loss, as well as an inability to problem solve or properly converse, this is referred to as dementia. These symptoms often appear gradually. Dementia is more often referred to as a syndrome, rather than a disease.
There are different types of dementia, such as Lewy Body Dementia, and Vascular Dementia which is caused by strokes, the symptoms of which such as memory loss and confusion often build up slowly and can only be diagnosed long after a stroke has occurred. Other causes of dementia can be brain tumours or head injuries.
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, and affects just less than 900 000 people in the UK alone. Alzheimer’s is caused by plaques and tau proteins that build up in the brain, that eventually destroy brains cells, interrupt connections in the brain and cancel short term memory patterns. Just what causes this to happen is still a mystery, although scientists have made important discoveries that are bringing us closer to finding out the truth behind the onset of the disease that affect so many people worldwide.
There are definite genetic links to early onset Alzheimer’s - this is when Alzheimer’s develops younger than 65. There are also possible links to brain injuries through repeated blows to the head through sport such as rugby and boxing.
Unfortunately there is currently no known cure for either dementia or Alzheimer’s, and being a carer for someone with either of these conditions means having to draw plenty of support from family, friends and health practitioners.