What is the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s?
There is a lot of confusion in people’s minds between dementia and Alzheimer’s. Some people think that one occurs in old age while the other at a young age. Some people think that it is the same; some others think that one has to do with memory while the other is about behavior.
Let us explain it in simple terms. Dementia is a general term for memory loss and other cognitive abilities serious enough to interfere with daily life. There are several kinds of dementias; Alzheimer’s disease is the most common. In fact, it accounts for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases. The other types of dementias are: vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, frontotemporal dementia, Parkinson’s dementia, and AIDS dementia. The symptoms in all those kinds of dementias are roughly similar but the cause differs from one kind to the other.
Is it normal to become forgetful at old age?
With age, some cognitive abilities may slow down, and the person may feel slower, however it is not normal to be forgetful. Once a person starts forgetting, especially if daily, that indicates the presence of an illness, and a specialist needs to be consulted. Several illnesses can lead to memory loss at old age such as depression, infections, strokes, vitamin deficiencies, anemia, and thyroid trouble, for example. So in other words, Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging. Even though the greatest known risk factor is increasing age, and the majority of people with Alzheimer’s are 65 and older, it doesn’t mean that it is normal to be forgetful when you age. If you have a memory problem at any age, this can be a disease and a specialist needs to examine you.
What are the warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease?
The 10 warning signs include:
1. Memory loss
2. Difficulty performing familiar tasks
3. Problems with language
4. Disorientation to time and place
5. Poor or decreased judgment
6. Problems with abstract thinking
7. Misplacing things
8. Changes in mood or behavior
9. Changes in personality
10. Loss of initiative
What is the course of Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s disease typically progresses slowly in three general stages — mild (early stage), moderate (middle stage), and severe (late stage). Since Alzheimer’s affects people in different ways, the timing and severity of dementia symptoms varies as each person progresses through the stages of Alzheimer’s differently.
Mild Alzheimer’s disease (early stage): In the early stage of Alzheimer’s, a person may function independently. He or she may still drive, work and take part in social activities. Despite this, the person may feel as if he or she is having memory lapses, such as forgetting familiar words or the location of everyday objects.
Friends, family, or others close to the individual begin to notice difficulties. During a detailed medical interview, doctors may be able to detect problems in memory or concentration.
Common difficulties include:
• Problems coming up with the right word or name,
• Trouble remembering names when introduced to new people,
• Challenges performing tasks in social or work settings,
• Forgetting material that one has just read,
• Losing or misplacing a valuable object,
• Increasing trouble with planning or organizing.
Moderate Alzheimer’s disease (middle stage): Moderate Alzheimer’s is typically the longest stage and can last for many years. As the disease progresses, the person with Alzheimer’s will require a greater level of care. During the moderate stage of Alzheimer’s, the dementia symptoms are more pronounced. A person may have greater difficulty performing tasks, such as paying bills, but they may still remember significant details about their life.
You may notice the person with Alzheimer’s confusing words, getting frustrated or angry, or acting in unexpected ways, such as refusing to bathe. Damage to nerve cells in the brain can make it difficult to express thoughts and perform routine tasks.
At this point, symptoms will be noticeable to others and may include:
• Forgetfulness of events or about one’s own personal history,
• Feeling moody or withdrawn, especially in socially or mentally challenging situations,
• Inability to recall their own address or telephone number or the high school or college from which they graduated,
• Confusion about where they are or what day it is,
• The need for help choosing proper clothing for the season or the occasion,
• Trouble controlling bladder and bowels in some individuals,
• Changes in sleep patterns, such as sleeping during the day and becoming restless at night,
• Increased risk of wandering and becoming lost,
• Personality and behavioral changes, including suspiciousness and delusions or compulsive, repetitive behavior like hand-wringing or tissue shredding.
Severe Alzheimer’s disease (late stage): In the final stage of this disease, dementia symptoms are severe. Individuals lose the ability to respond to their environment, to carry on a conversation and, eventually, to control movement. They may still say words or phrases, but communicating pain becomes difficult. As memory and cognitive skills continue to worsen, significant personality changes may take place and individuals need extensive help with daily activities.
At this stage, individuals may:
• Need round-the-clock assistance with daily activities and personal care,
• Lose awareness of recent experiences as well as of their surroundings,
• Experience changes in physical abilities, including the ability to walk, sit and, eventually, swallow,
• Have increasing difficulty communicating,
• Become vulnerable to infections, especially pneumonia.
What should be done?
It is essential to seek the help of a specialist as soon as you notice the symptoms. Currently, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease but medications do exist that help slow down the progression of the disease, and offer some stability. These medications may also improve the quality of life of the patient and the caregiver. The sooner the treatment, the better the outcome.
In addition to medications, several things can also be done. Cognitive stimulation (reading, playing cards, crossword puzzles), social stimulation (visiting friends and family, engaging in simple social activities) and physical stimulation (walking daily, occupational therapy, physiotherapy) are essential in preserving the functioning and the independence of the person diagnosed with dementia. It is very important to keep the person active and involved in daily matters (even if he/she requires assistance).
The Alzheimer’s Association in Lebanon (AAL), which was founded in 2004, is very active in Lebanon and works to spread awareness and provide services to people affected by this disease and their families. Some of the activities include: weekly caregivers support group, monthly conferences for the public, scientific conferences/ workshops, awareness campaigns, and advocacy with key stakeholders and outreach programs.
In addition, an adult day care center, Minerva Adult Care, has recently opened in Beirut, providing a chance for people suffering from Alzheimer’s to participate in professionally staffed activities in a social setting such as concentration and memory games, psychomotor and speech therapy sessions, arts and crafts, exercise and music classes. The member can spend the day there while his or her caregiver can have some time off to rest or catch up on his or her own daily routine. In fact, up to 50 percent of caregivers may suffer from depression if they do not rest and engage in healthy activities. Such a center provides a better balance for the caregiver between caregiving duties and other activities while providing an interactive, healthy, and Alzheimer’s friendly environment for loved ones.
In case you need support or information, please do not hesitate to contact AAL’s hotline at +961-76-030083 or visit alzlebanon.org