With aging there are some cognitive declines and older adults may begin to wonder what is normal versus abnormal. Some decline in memory is typical. Most people have some minor loss of short term and working memory, which makes it more difficult to retain new information and work with it. However, a growing number of people are experiencing more extreme memory loss, such as that seen in dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. These are two conditions that are sometimes confused.
Learn more about Alzheimer’s and Dementia including their similarities and differences:
Disorders of Dementia
While you may have heard of dementia and assumed it was one, singular condition, dementia is a term used to describe a collection of disorders that all have similar symptoms. Dementia can be caused or associated with conditions such as Parkinson’s Disease and Huntington’s Disease. It can be due to Frontotemporal Dementia or Lewy Body Dementia. Each of these involves cognitive impairment and progressively worsening memory problems. For each, the cause is a bit different.
In the case of Parkinson’s Disease and Huntington’s Disease, the dementia symptoms are secondary, or due to, the primary disorder. Each of these conditions are best known for causing problems with movement. However, both also tend to cause dementia symptoms as the disease progresses. Neither condition can be prevented or cured, and treatments typically involve attempts to slow progressive symptoms, maintain functioning for as long as possible, and ease discomfort, to maintain quality of life.
In the case of Lewy Body Dementia, the symptoms are due to the presence of Lewy bodies in the brain, which seem to disrupt normal brain functioning. Frontotemporal Dementia is due to organic problems in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain, which result in symptoms of dementia. These are just two more examples of conditions that can cause general symptoms of memory loss and cognitive decline.
Alzheimer’s and Dementia
Along with the disorders listed above, approximately one-half-dozen other conditions can cause symptoms of dementia. One additional condition is Alzheimer’s Disease. In essence, Alzheimer’s Disease is one particular type of dementia. This disorder is, in fact, the most common form of dementia. The rates of diagnosis have been increasing over the years. Although, a great deal of research is being done on Alzheimer’s Disease, there is still no known cure. This is due in part to the cause of the condition.
Many forms of dementia have a genetic component to them. Environment also plays a role in several forms of dementia. A few forms of dementia, such as Korsakoff’s, are due largely to the environment (in the case of Korsakoff’s, the symptoms are due to a Vitamin B-1 deficiency, often as the result of alcohol abuse). For individual’s with Alzheimer’s Disease, genetics seems to play a big role. While research has zeroed in on some of the genetic links, more research is needed to identify curative treatments.
Doctors do know that Alzheimer’s Disease is due to an accumulation of tangles and plaques in the brain. Essentially, the normal processes that keep the brain free of old debris break down. What remains builds up and becomes tangled, leading to material that should not be there. This prevents the brain from working as it should, leading to the cognitive problems and memory deficits.
Final Thoughts and Recommendations
Due to the large number of specific disorders linked to Dementia, diagnosis does require medical expertise. Some disorders take quite a bit of testing to determine the specific type of dementia, so that the best treatment options can be used. Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s Disease is difficult to diagnose. It is often only diagnosed when other dementia disorders have been ruled out.