In my age group it isn’t unusual to talk about the trials and tribulations of getting old. In fact, one of the worst parts of aging is that the main topic of conversation is our personal health.
Image Source: fayetteville-ar.gov/
That’s important, but there are other things going on in the world. Every now and then an intellectual conversation would be refreshing. But I digress!
During these conversations it has become apparent to me that many people use interchangeably, and incorrectly, the terms Dementia and Alzheimer’s. I decided to find out the details, primarily so I can correct my contemporaries from a position of knowledge. One of the signs of aging is the diminishing or loss of social “filters”.
Since both the terms Dementia and Alzheimer’s have been around for more than a century, the confusion has no doubt existed a long time as well, presumably because both conditions affect overall memory, cognitive and behavioral aspects of patients.
Dementia is an “umbrella” term applied to a collection of symptoms caused by various conditions. It is a syndrome of decline in mental function and most always is irreversible.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause for dementia, accounting for an estimated 60 to 80 percent. However, the second most common cause is vascular dementia a.k.a. high blood pressure. Other types of dementia include:
■ Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease
■ Frontotemporal dementia
■ Huntington’s disease
■ Parkinson’s disease
■ Alzheimer’s disease
■ Normal pressure hydrocephalus
■ Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome
According to an article on the website pediaa.com/, some forms of Dementia can be caused by vitamin deficiencies or drug interactions. Those types, once identified, can be reversed.
Doctors rely on behavioral changes and symptoms to diagnose dementia, including but not limited to, the following: Image Source: medium.com/difference-between-alzheimers-dementia ▼
■ Language impairment
■ A change in communication skills
■ Mood and/or Personality Change
■ Memory loss
■ Changing thinking skills
■ Poor judgment and reasoning skills
■ Decreased focus and attention
■ Problems in spatial skills.
Now, doctors generally agree that irritability, depression, and anxiety can be early signs of oncoming dementia.
Alzheimer’s disease is a slowly progressive and fatal deterioration of the brain. Scientists and the medical profession believe the disease has two offenders: the buildup of two proteins in the brain: amyloid beta, which forms plaques on the brains, and tau which, in excess, causes the neurons in the brain to tangle (NFT).
Amyloid Beta Protein
“Amyloid beta monomers (single peptides which are short chains of amino acids) aggregate into soluble oligomers (small aggregates of peptides), which then combine to form insoluble fibrils (long aggregates of peptides) and plaques.”1 medicalnewstoday.com/articles/
◄Image Source: petridishtalk.com/2011/
Tau is a protein contained within the thread-shaped extension of the nerve cells. In a healthy brain, Tau helps form the necessary structures that transport nutrients within the nerve cells. As part of the disease, these structures crumble into tangles. This prevents the delivery of nutrients to the nerve cells, which then leads to cell death.
In the past, the only way to be sure a person had Alzheimer’s was to examine the brain of the deceased patient during an autopsy for the plaques and tangles formed by the disease.
Thanks to advances in medical science, a patient can request a PET scan or cerebrospinal fluid sampling, which can tell with 95% accuracy if tangles and plaques are present.
Unfortunately, since most insurance companies don’t cover either procedure, most people who are candidates as Alzheimer’s patients won’t get the tests. Sad to say, it is still a process of elimination based on symptoms. The signs of dementia usually do not appear in a patient until the mid to later stages Alzheimer’s disease, which means the disease has been progressing for a long time.
I had always heard that Dementia was what happened to the normal brain when a person got old, but according to my research, that is not the case. Except for blood pressure, Dementia is caused by particular diseases as named above. [Maybe high blood pressure is considered a disease, but I’m not getting into that.]
According to the National Institute on Ageing, “Forgetfulness can be a normal part of aging. As people get older, changes occur in all parts of the body, including the brain. As a result, some people may notice that it takes longer to learn new things, they don't remember information as well as they did, or they lose things like their glasses. These usually are signs of mild forgetfulness, not serious memory problems…"
Normal Aging Memory Loss
■ Making a bad decision
■ Forgetting what day it is
■Searching for the right word to use during a conversation
■ Forgetting to pay a monthly bill
■ Losing a commonly used item, like keys or glasses
■Forgetting the name of a recently made acquaintance
■ Difficulty driving to a new location
■ Typical mood fluctuations consistent with their personality
Signs of Dementia
■ Consistently demonstrating poor decision-making skills
■ Forgetting what season it is
■ Struggling to maintain a conversation
■ Experiencing problems with managing finances
■ Misplacing things frequently and being unable to locate them within the house
■ Forgetting the name of a close friend or family member
■ Getting lost while driving in familiar places
■ Dramatic mood swings or changes in personality.
There are numerous lists and charts that attempt to convey the difference, primarily for aging seniors and their family to identify symptoms that warrant medical attention. The following is one of the best.
Image sources: https://cookwithkathy.wordpress.com/2018/07/26/whats-the-difference-between-dementia-and-alzheimers-disease/
I’m fairly confident that so far I’m just aging normally and, best of all, I’m armed for the next conversation on the topic. And so are you.
1.Querfurth HW, LaFerla FM. Alzheimer’s disease. N Engl J Med. 2010;362(4):329-344
medicalnewstoday.com/articles/ (Alzheimer's: How do tau tangles grow? (medicalnewstoday.com)
The Pathophysiology of Alzheimer's Disease Begins With Amyloid Beta Accumulation in the Brain | Identify Alzheimer's Disease (AD) - Biogen