‘Dementia’ and ‘Alzheimer’s’ are often used interchangeably, however, there are important differences between these two terms. In this blog, we take a look at what each of these terms means and the differences between the two.

What is Dementia?

Dementia is the term that is used for a group of conditions that relate to difficulties with cognitive functioning. This can relate to problems with memory, communication and speech, focus and concentration, reasoning and judgement and visual perception.

As dementia is a syndrome, not a disease, it describes a collection of related symptoms rather than the specific cause of those symptoms. There are over 400 different types of dementia with the most common types being Alzheimer’s and Vascular dementia. Dementia is most likely to affect those who are 65 or over (however it can affect some people at a younger age). According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there are currently 47.5 million people living with dementia across the world.

What is Alzheimer’s?

Alzheimer’s disease, therefore, is a specific type of dementia and is a specific disease rather than a syndrome. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia and accounts for between 60-80% of diagnosed dementia cases. It is caused by a build-up of proteins in the brain which results in damage to the nerve cells.

The disease usually develops slowly and gets more progressive over time, however, this will vary for each individual. Early symptoms include memory lapses such as misplacing items, forgetting the names of places and objects or forgetting about previous conversations or recent events. As symptoms progress memory problems will get worse including difficulties in recognising close relatives. Sometimes physical issues will develop such as having difficulties eating and swallowing, loss of speech and restricted movement.

Unlike some forms of dementia, there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. However, there are medications and therapies available that can help to reduce symptoms.

Getting support

Memory problems can be caused by all sorts of factors including stress, depression or certain medications and are not necessarily a symptom of dementia. However, it is always a good idea if you are worried about your memory to book an appointment with your GP. They can refer you for further tests if they are concerned or provide the reassurance you need that your memory problems are being caused by external stresses.

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Living with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, or another form of dementia can be overwhelming both for an individual and their family and friends. As well as medication, there are also support groups and activities available to help individuals and carers to enjoy life whilst living with this condition. Your GP will be able to direct you to appropriate support in your local area.

The key difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s is that dementia is the umbrella term for a range of conditions related to difficulties with cognitive functioning, whereas Alzheimer’s is a disease that is a specific type of dementia. Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia, with 60-80% of dementia cases being diagnosed as this type.

If you are concerned about memory issues, or you are worried about someone close to you, then it is a good idea to book in a trip to see your GP.