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What’s The Difference Between Dementia And Alzheimer’s Disease?

April 19th, 2022

Memory loss in later life can be worrying, but it’s not always necessarily a sign of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Brain fog, tiredness, age-related cognitive decline, and even a lack of the right vitamins and minerals in your diet can all cause memory loss. However, it’s important to speak to your GP if you are experiencing memory loss after the age of 65 to rule out anything more serious.

If you or a loved one receive a diagnosis for dementia or Alzheimer’s, it’s natural to feel worried and have a lot of questions. Here, we’re going to take a look at the differences between Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, how to spot early signs of these illnesses, and how to manage a diagnosis.

What Is Dementia?

older woman looking sad

Dementia is an umbrella term for a group of symptoms associated with a decline in brain function. There are several different types of dementia, including vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. 

NHS data shows that more than 850,000 people in the UK are currently living with dementia, with this figure predicted to rise to over one million by 2025. It’s thought that 1 in 14 people over 65 are living with dementia, along with 1 in 6 of those aged 80 and over.

Vascular dementia is caused by reduced blood flow to the brain and affects around 150,000 people in the UK. Many people with this type of dementia also have Alzheimer’s disease, which means their symptoms can often overlap.

What Are The Signs Of Dementia?

Most people are aware that memory loss and forgetfulness can be early signs of dementia, but there are lots of other potential symptoms too, which can change as the condition progresses. Other signs of dementia can include:

  • Difficulty speaking and communicating
  • A decline in thinking speed and mental sharpness
  • Difficulty performing everyday activities, such as getting dressed
  • Mood or personality changes – this may include behavioural and emotional changes
  • Loss of interest in activities that have previously been enjoyed
  • Hallucinations may occur as the condition progresses, which can be distressing for all parties

How Can Dementia Be Managed?

older people holding hands

There is currently no cure for dementia, but an early diagnosis means the illness can be managed. In some cases, the methods used to manage the disease can help to slow its progress, which is why it’s so important to speak to your GP if you have any concerns about memory loss or other symptoms.

How To Manage Living With Dementia

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to managing dementia, as the disease will manifest differently in every patient. However, there are some tactics you can try to keep people living with dementia engaged with their surroundings, and ways to adapt your home to make it a little more dementia-friendly. For example:

  • Try not to correct your loved one too much – if they start reminiscing about the past or believe they are still living in the past, correcting them or forcing them back to the present may cause confusion and even anger. Instead, let them engage with their memories
  • Keep them engaged in everyday tasks – let them help out with activities such as shopping or gardening. This can help someone living with dementia to still feel included and as though they have a purpose. However, it’s important to try to keep them away from any tasks that could be risky or dangerous, such as unsupervised cooking
  • Add memory prompts around your home – prompts such as labels on cupboards and reminders on washing hands or flushing the toilet in the bathroom can be helpful. You may need to use a combination of words and pictures 
  • Make sure your loved one stays hydrated – people living with dementia don’t always recognise when they’re thirsty, so it’s important to make sure they’re staying hydrated to help prevent further illness and confusion. Again, reminders around the house might help, as can getting an adapted cup or straw to help prevent spillages
  • Investigate dementia therapies – there is growing evidence on the benefits of various dementia therapies, such as reminisce work and music therapy, so look into what might be available in your local area, and whether your GP can refer you to any projects or groups

How To Manage Vascular Dementia

As vascular dementia is caused by reduced blood flow to the brain, there are lifestyle changes you can make to try to reduce the rate that brain cells are being lost, such as:

  • Losing weight
  • Eating a balanced diet
  • Stopping smoking
  • Reducing alcohol consumption

Speak to your GP for advice on how best to manage vascular dementia in line with your individual needs.

Caring For Someone With Dementia

younger woman caring for older woman

Caring for someone with dementia can be incredibly challenging. If your loved one feels a long way from the person you once knew, it’s natural to feel upset and frustrated. There are lots of support groups and online forums out there, so look into what’s available in your area, and consider respite care if you need a break. 

If you’re taking on the role of a carer, contact your local authority about undergoing a carer’s assessment to see what support you may be eligible for. 

You may reach a point as the disease progresses where full-time specialist dementia care is needed, and you’ll find this at New Care homes.

What Is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is one type of dementia – it’s actually the most common cause of dementia in the UK. The illness gets its name from Dr Alois Alzheimer; in 1906, he noticed changes in brain tissue in a woman who’d seemingly died of a mental illness, and identified what was to become known as Alzheimer’s.

Memory recall, thinking skills, and other abilities and functions can all be affected by Alzheimer’s. Although this degenerative illness typically affects people aged 65 and over, early onset Alzheimer’s accounts for 1 in 20 diagnoses, NHS figures show.

What Are The Signs Of Alzheimer’s Disease?

The signs of Alzheimer’s disease can progress slowly, so they can be difficult to recognise. The first sign is often short-term memory loss, such as forgetting recent conversations or people you’ve only just met. As the disease progresses, symptoms can include:

  • Communication difficulties
  • Difficulty performing everyday self-care tasks, such as getting dressed or brushing teeth
  • Reduction in attention span
  • Misplacing items, which can potentially be dangerous
  • Difficulty understanding time
  • A lack of physical control, including over going to the toilet
  • Anxiety and low mood

How Can Alzheimer’s Disease Be Managed?

elderly hands

As with other types of dementia, there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but there are some medications that can be used to help manage and potentially reduce symptoms over the short term – speak to your GP if you’re interested in exploring these.

There are some options for managing Alzheimer’s and its symptoms, including cognitive rehabilitation and reminisce work, such as looking through old photos or making a life story journal. 

Spending time immersed in old memories can be a source of comfort and help them to come alive again for someone living with Alzheimer’s. Although this can be difficult for loved ones and carers if more recent memories have been lost, it may provide you with a glimpse of the person you knew before Alzheimer’s took hold.

As the illness progresses, behavioural and psychological symptoms may lead to aggression or violence. If you’re struggling to cope with these, a consultant psychiatrist may be able to look into prescribing antipsychotic medicines, so speak to your doctor about your options.

Dementia Care At New Care Homes

Specialist dementia care is available at all New Care homes, for residents living with different types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. 

Our care homes are designed with comfort and familiarity in mind for those living with memory loss, with subtle zoning, signposting, and calming colour palettes throughout.

We’re also extremely proud of our tovertafel or ‘magic tables’, which can be found in each of our dementia care communities, encouraging residents to engage in play – something that research has indicated can have positive effects for people diagnosed with dementia.

Find out more about dementia care at New Care homes, or contact us here if you have any questions about our care services or care home facilities.