Like many people, I was under the mistaken impression that the words dementia and Alzheimer’s disease were one and the same, so I was surprised to learn that:
• Dementia and Alzheimer’s are not interchangeable
• Alzheimer’s disease shouldn’t be used as a blanket condition to describe seniors who are experiencing memory loss
In fact, while Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia (dementia is the general term used to describe a severe decline in memory and mental ability that actually interferes with daily life), Alzheimer’s is not the only type of illness that falls under this umbrella.
With Alzheimer’s disease, patients and their caregivers can expect to see behavioural changes such as agitation, sleep disturbances, depression, confusion, repetition, Sundowning, wandering, and responsive behaviours, which worsen over time.
Elizz offers support for caregivers of Dementia patients and is a great place to go for all things caregiving. If you find yourself needing advice or help, Elizz offers support services for caregivers as well as home care services for those in your care with Alzheimer's or Dementia. You can also speak with an Elizz representative by phone by calling 1-855-Ask-Eliz (275-3549).
What types of dementia are there?
Alzheimer’s disease is perhaps the most well known type of dementia but according to the Alzheimer Society of Canada, there are other types of dementias you may not know about. These include:
Vascular dementia - This is the second most common type of dementia and occurs after a stroke. The symptoms are varied, but the most obvious ones are confusion, disorientation, trouble speaking (or understanding speech), and vision loss. Other conditions that damage blood vessels and reduce circulation, depriving the brain of oxygen and nutrients, can also cause vascular dementia, such as chronic high glucose levels in diabetes patients, high blood pressure, and any risk factors for heart disease. Therefore, the best way to prevent vascular dementia is to control the risk factors of these conditions.
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease - This is a fast-acting, rare form of irreversible dementia caused by infectious proteins called prions that attack the brain, kill cells, and create gaps in brain tissue. In cattle, it’s known as spongiform encephalopathy epidemic (BSE or, more commonly, “mad cow disease”). In addition to memory loss and mood swings, some of the symptoms the patient will experience include difficulty with balance, muscle jerks or twitching, and vision problems, including blindness.
Lewy body dementia - This disease affects a person’s ability to think and move due to abnormal deposits of alpha-synuclein proteins inside the brain’s nerve cells. Like Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, Lewy body dementia also progresses quickly and has many symptoms that are similar to Alzheimer’s disease. Other symptoms include visual hallucinations, stiffness of muscles, tremors, a stooped posture, and slow, shuffling movements.
What causes dementia?
Dementia is caused when a person’s brain cells can’t communicate with each other, impacting their ability to think, behave, and express their feelings in a normal way. While it’s true that memory loss is one of the earliest signs of Alzheimer’s disease, forgetfulness does not necessarily mean an automatic diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or dementia.
There are many factors that can affect someone’s memory such as certain medications, sleep deprivation, nutritional deficiency, a head injury, etc. We all forget things as we grow older; however, memory loss is not a normal part of aging.
If you’re taking care of someone who is experiencing frequent memory loss outside of typical forgetfulness (for example, forgetting the day of the week but remembering it later on during the day), visit a doctor to diagnose the issue.
Just as memory loss is not a normal part of aging, there is no standard test to determine if someone has dementia once they’ve hit a certain age. Dementia can affect people who are younger than 65.
In order to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia, doctors study numerous factors such as medical history, physical exams, laboratory tests, and changes in cognitive and physical skills, as well as behaviours. See also, our Elizz Infographic on the 7 A’s of dementia symptoms.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for most progressive types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. However, medication and non-medicinal treatment plans can help alleviate or slow down the progression of dementia symptoms.
Estimate growth of dementia
Dementia is a worldwide issue that could significantly impact future generations.
In 2015, there were 47.5 million people – more than the population of Canada – living with dementia worldwide. Today, there are over 750,000 Canadians living with Alzheimer’s disease and other kinds of dementia, and that number is predicted to rise to 1.4 million by 2031 if a cure can’t be found. This means that by the year 2040, the economic impact of dementia in Canada will be as much as $33 billion per year.
Now that you know some of the basics of dementia, are you ready to test your knowledge with this simple true or false dementia quiz?