Many people think and even use the words dementia and Alzheimer’s interchangeably. This is a misconception. The two words are not the same illness although they share similarities. So, how are these two terms different? How are they the same? Let’s look at each illness one at a time and at the end of this article we can distinguish between the two and know the importance of care for the elderly suffering from these conditions.
Dementia is a term for a group of brain disorders that encompass a wide set of symptoms that range from impaired memory to impaired thinking. It is an umbrella term that is hugely connected to age-related cognitive decline. Aside from age, dementia is also caused by Creutzfeld-Jakob disease, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, and Alzheimer’s to name a few.
These brain disorders not only make it hard for the sufferer to think clearly, remember as well as control their emotions and even making decisions. This disorder does not mean simple memory loss like forgetting which level your car is parked or temporarily losing your car keys. So, in order for a person to have dementia they must have at least two of the stated characteristics below:
- They see things that are not there, or they cannot detect movement, or cannot see difference in colors
- They have difficulty with judging and reasoning
- They have difficulty concentrating and focusing
- They have difficulty with speech and communicating as a whole
- They have problems with their memory
Stages of Dementia
In the Reisberg Scale for assessing primary degenerative dementia. This scale is also known as Global Deterioration Scale (GDS) and there are 7 stages. This test is most relevant for people who have Alzheimer’s because there are other types of dementia that do not always include memory loss like frontotemporal dementia. The various stages are:
- Stage 1 – No Cognitive Decline: Majority of healthy people are at this stage. They re mentally healthy, no memory loss, and functions normally. Diagnosis: No Dementia.
- Stage 2 – Very Mild Cognitive Decline: This is the stage that pertains to normal forgetfulness like forgetting where you have put your car keys, or names of people. The symptoms of forgetfulness are not evident to the physician or your loved ones. Diagnosis: No Dementia.
- Stage 3 – Mild Cognitive Decline: At this point, there is a decreased work performance, slight difficulty concentrating, or an increased forgetfulness. At this point, the person has more difficulty finding the right words and get lost more often and loved ones do notice the decline in memory. The average duration of this stage is 7 years before dementia sets in. Diagnosis: No Dementia.
- Stage 4 – Moderate Cognitive Decline: This stage includes difficulty traveling alone to new locations, difficulty managing finances, decreased memory of recent events, and difficulty concentrating. Socialization becomes difficult, so they start to withdraw from friends or family. During the patient exam and interview, the doctor can detect clear cognitive problems. The average duration of this stage is two years. Diagnosis: Early Stage.
- Stage 5 – Moderately Severe Cognitive Decline: At this point, there is more prominent memory loss where the sufferer doesn’t know the time or the day or they don’t know their phone number and address. They need assistance with daily activities due to major memory loss. This stage lasts on average for 1 ½ years. Diagnosis: Mild Stage.
- Stage 6 – Severe Cognitive Decline: This stage is also known as middle dementia and lasts an average of 2 ½ years. People in this stage require extensive help to carry out daily activities. Most of the sufferers can only remember little details of their early life and have little memory of recent events and start forgetting names of close family members. Personality changes occur like delusions, a decline in their ability to speak, difficulty finishing tasks, loss of bowel or bladder control, and difficulty counting down from 10. Diagnosis: Mid-Stage.
- Stage 7 – Very Severe Cognitive Decline: Also known as late dementia and has an average duration of 2 ½ years. At this stage, the patient no longer has the ability to communicate or speak. They lost psychomotor skills like walking and they need full assistance for most daily activities like eating, toileting, and the likes. Diagnosis: Late-Stage.
The reason why many people confuse these two terms is that Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia. Which means, not all dementia is Alzheimer’s disease (AD) but all the symptoms of an AD can be connected with dementia. Have I confused you yet? To make it simple, Alzheimer’s Disease is a very specific form of dementia, since dementia can also pertain to other brain disorders.
Alzheimer’s is an irreversible disease which means once it sets in, it cannot be reversed back to normal. As of this writing, the cure for AD has not yet been discovered. And unfortunately, AD is a progressive disease that only worsens with time. Although we know that increasing age is a risk factor, it doesn’t mean that AD is a normal part of aging. As a matter of fact, there are around 200,000 Americans below the age of 65 who have early-onset AD.
Risk Factors for Alzheimer’s
The biggest risk factor for AD is age—that means everybody is at risk of getting AD. And the older the person gets, the higher the risk. Statistics show that 50% of people above the age of 85 have AD and as much as 10% of the population over 65 years have AD.
Genetics also play a role in AD. It can be said that at least half of the early onset AD are gene mutation related and can be passed on to their offspring. Statistics point out that majority of AD develop in people after 70 years old. But, as much as 5% of the population develop AD in their 40s or 50s and half of this percentage is attributed to inherited gene mutations. Further, their offspring have a 50% chance of inheriting the disease.
But, medical professionals point out that it is fruitless to get tested for the gene because as of this writing there is no known cure. Only when medical treatment the decrease or prevent the risk of getting AD is developed, then genetic testing would be beneficial.
Other risk factors include:
- Estrogen – studies point that women have higher chances of getting AD than men which led them to look into estrogen. Although further research is still needed, this forms part of the reason why women are suggested not prescribed estrogen in their menopausal years.
- Significant traumatic head injuries
- Majority of people who have Down syndrome
- People who have less than 8-years of education
- Elevated cholesterol
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
The Care Needed by Dementia Patients
As mentioned above, the amount of care needed by dementia patients varies on the stage of their disorder. But, nonetheless, they do need care. Let’s be clear about dealing with dementia patients, they need a lot of caring and understanding in various areas of their lives. So, here are some tips on dealing and caring for a loved one with dementia.
- Handling troubling behavior – remember that your loved one has a brain disorder, and this practically shapes who they are today. If you plan on changing their behavior, you will more likely just be met with resistance.
- Accommodating the behavior – what you can do is to change your behavior because you can and accommodate their behavior. Example, if your loved one wants to sleep on the floor, then place a mat on the floor and let them sleep there.
- There’s a purpose to a specific behavior – example incontinence and hallucination can be a byproduct of medications that your loved one is taking. Ask the doctor about this and maybe they can help you manage the behavior with a different medication or a new medication to control the problem behavior.
- Wandering – a lot of dementia patients have a tendency to wander and not know how to get back home. This is especially stressful for their caregivers. What you can do to deter this from happening are: install child-safe plastic covers to door knobs, minimize restlessness by making time for regular exercise, tell your neighbors about your loved ones wandering behavior and provide them with your number, and even putting away their purse or coat since some individuals do not go out the house without certain pieces of articles on them.
- Communicating – as caregivers for our loved ones with dementia, we are not born with the communicating skills to handle them naturally—but, we can definitely learn them! When communicating, ask answerable yet simple questions. Do state your message clearly and most of all always use a positive mood for interaction like positive tone of voice and facial expressions. Touching to convey your feelings of affection and message is also good. When doing activities, break it down into little steps that are easy to do and understand.
This is not a complete list of what you can do to help and take good care of your loved one suffering from dementia. We know that it can be overwhelming to do all these 24/7. That’s why Comfort Home Care, a professional in-home care agency, is here to help you. We can provide in-home care and various customized services that would suit your dementia care needs and budget.