Home Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy Dementia vs Alzheimer’s: Know the Difference to Support Your Loved Ones

Dementia vs Alzheimer’s: Know the Difference to Support Your Loved Ones

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Dementia and Alzheimer’s are often mistaken for one another but, in reality, they are very different.

It’s highly likely that you’ve at least heard of dementia and Alzheimer’s. What many people fail to realise, however, is that the two terms refer to completely different things. While they are certainly linked, dementia and Alzheimer’s are not the same.

Understanding the differences between dementia and Alzheimer’s is especially important if you are looking after a loved one who has received a diagnosis. You’ll want the best for them, and that usually starts with providing the best possible care.

Caring for someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s can be difficult – having complex things like deputyship explained to them is near impossible if they are struggling with basic tasks. However, by taking a sensitive and informed approach, providing care can be made easier.

What is dementia?

Dementia refers to a group of symptoms that are associated with a decline in memory, reasoning or other cognitive skills.

Contrary to popular belief, dementia isn’t a normal part of growing old. It’s caused by damage to the brain cells, affecting someone’s ability to communicate. This can, in turn, affect thinking, behaviour and emotions.

The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, which we’ll get into more detail about shortly. There are many different types of dementia, all of which affect sufferers in a different way. 

Symptoms of dementia?

There are a number of dementia symptoms to keep an eye on. These include:

  • Problems with short-term memory
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Struggling to carry out daily talks
  • Finding it difficult to follow a simple conversation or find the right word
  • Being confused about the time and place
  • Sudden mood changes

How is dementia treated?

The way dementia is treated will usually depend on its cause. In the most progressive cases of dementia, there is no cure or treatment that can slow or stop its progression. 

However, there are some treatments which help with some of the symptoms. These include specific medicines, such as Acetylcholinesterase inhibitors and Memantine, as well as treatments such as cognitive stimulation therapy.

Cognitive stimulation therapy involves the person with dementia taking part in group activities and exercises which are designed to help improve memory, problem-solving skills and language ability. Evidence suggests that it benefits people with mild to moderate dementia.

What is Alzheimer’s?

Alzheimer’s is a degenerative brain disease that is caused by complex changes to the brain following cell damage. It leads on to further dementia symptoms that gradually worsen over time. 

The exact cause of Alzheimer’s is not yet fully understood, although there are a number of potential factors which could increase the likelihood of developing the condition. These include:

  • Ageing
  • A family history of the condition
  • Untreated depression
  • Conditions associated with cardiovascular disease

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s?

While many symptoms share similarities with more general symptoms associated with dementia, there are a few differences to be aware of. Symptoms commonly associated with Alzheimer’s include:

  • Repeating the same phrases, or asking the same questions repeatedly
  • Becoming withdrawn or anxious
  • Difficulty with tasks that require concentration

How is Alzheimer’s treated?

Treatment for Alzheimer’s is very similar to that of dementia. Medicines like Acetylcholinesterase inhibitors and Memantine are often prescribed, as well as antidepressants, if it’s suspected that someone is suffering from underlying anxiety issues.

Again, cognitive stimulation therapies may also be prescribed to help improve general memory and problem-solving skills. 

How can you support someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s?

There are a number of ways in which you can support someone who has been diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s. These include:

Take care of simple everyday tasks

In the early stages of someone’s diagnosis, they may be able to carry out simple, everyday tasks with ease. However, as their condition develops, they may begin to struggle to remember things or concentrate on completing a task.

This means that helping with small, simple tasks can end up going a long way. Consider handling their weekly shopping, carrying out simple bits of maintenance around their home and walking their dog to ease the burden.

Leave memory aids around the home

If you aren’t always going to be around to help someone with simple tasks, you can leave memory aids to help them remember where things are. As an example, you could put labels and signs on cupboards, and leave instructions on appliances and devices.

Help with regular exercise

It can be hard for someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s to regularly exercise. It would, therefore, be beneficial to help them take simple steps every day, like going for short walks or doing some gentle stretching.

Staying physically active can have a range of benefits for someone suffering, from helping to improve their day-to-day mood, to maintaining some of their cognitive functions. 

Mentally stimulate them where you can

It’s sometimes easy to forget that someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s needs the same sort of mental stimulation as everyone else. So, take the time communicate with them regularly, or sit with them to complete a simple task like feeding a pet or polishing a pair of shoes.

This will, of course, depend on the condition of the individual in question and how far their Alzheimer’s or dementia has progressed. So, it’s best to use a judgement call to assess what they will be able to achieve with some support.

Do you know someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s?

Hopefully, this has given you a better idea about how dementia and Alzheimer’s differ from one another. I also hope you’ve learned some ways to support someone suffering from the conditions.

Are you currently looking after someone who has dementia or Alzheimer’s? Have you got any more tips you think people should be made aware of? Why not leave a comment below so that we can get as much information out there as possible.

Dennis Relojo-Howell is the founder of Psychreg.


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