Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Caregiver Wednesdays--Understanding Dementia pt. 1

What is the difference between Alzheimer's Disease and dementia?
Can I catch either one?
Does it run in families?
I keep losing my keys. Should I be worried?
I'm getting older, I guess I should expect this.
Can I have "a little bit of dementia?"

This month, we're going to look at Dementia 101.

Simply put, Alzheimer's is a form of dementia, but dementia isn't necessarily Alzheimer's.

Do you remember when you heard whispers about your grandmother going "senile"? That term isn't used any more (or shouldn't be). Instead we talk of people having dementia. Dementia is an umbrella term for a series of symptoms. The most prominent of these is memory loss, but there are many others, including the ability to reason and make decisions, language, and attention span. The main issue here is that it is severe enough to affect what is called the activities of daily living (ADLs). Everyone forgets things at times, or can't find the right word, or is distracted. But when it becomes a pattern that affects my ability to do my job, care for my family (or myself), it needs to be assessed by a qualified physician.

Imagine you had a stomach ache. You had no idea where it came from, but it was making you miserable. The stomach ache is a symptom. You need to know what is causing it before you can effectively treat it. Did you eat something that had gone bad? Did you eat too much? Is it an ulcer? Is it cancer? Until you know the cause, you have no idea how to treat it.

Dementia is like the stomach ache. If you are experiencing a variety of symptoms, such as memory loss, getting lost in familiar circumstances, not wanting to bathe and increased confusion, then the root cause needs to be found. Some forms of dementia, such as those from vitamin deficiency and some thyroid conditions, are curable. Others, such as those associated with Alzheimer's Disease and Parkinson's, are treatable. Symptoms can be lessened for a time, and quality of life can be improved.

Alzheimer's disease and other dementias are not a normal part of ageing. Even though the instances increase with age, healthy cognitive function is normal. You should not "expect" cognitive loss as you get older.

I've heard people say, "He has dementia, but at least he doesn't have Alzheimer's." One is not a degree of the other. AD is the disease and dementia is the symptom. If you have dementia from another source (such as vascular dementia, Parkinson's etc.) it's still dementia, and presents much the same.

You can't have a little bit of dementia. Both dementia and AD are categorised as mild, mid-stage and end-stage or severe. You can't catch it.  If you have a parent, brother, sister or child with AD, you are more likely get it. A gene, called APOE-e4, has been identified as a risk gene. If you inherit it from one parent, you have a 20-25% chance of getting the disease. If you inherited it from both parents, your chances are greater. However, having the gene, even from both parents, does not guarantee you will get the disease.

I have lived with this for many years. My mother died with early onset AD (she was diagnosed before 60) which makes my chances of contracting the disease greater. I am now about the age Mom was when she was diagnosed. I try not to think about it.

Next week-What is Alzheimer's disease?


  1. I will keep you in my prayers. Great post...good insight.

  2. I found this interesting, since I have parents at 91 and almost 90, can't wait for next weeks blog, hope I dont miss it, I copied and pasted it to send to all my siblings also. Thanks. Terri Hahn

  3. Thanks for the info. These will really help everyone who read this understand that AD makes it difficult for seniors to convey the whatever physical changes or discomfort they feel. People around older adults, especially those with Alzheimer's disease, should be more sensitive to the changes and needs of these seniors.

    Dementia specialist