What is Alzheimer’s disease and Dementia?

Age related illnesses | October 14, 2016 | Author: Naturopath

What is Alzheimer’s disease and Dementia?

In order to get a head start, it helps to understand, firstly, that dementia in and of itself is not even a specific disease. Dementia is rather an umbrella term that describes a set of symptoms that are typically indicative of age-related mental decline. These symptoms of dementia are usually related to a neurological defect that may arise due to a host of possible factors.

Symptoms of dementia may include but are not limited to:

  • Memory loss (nature of memory loss may vary among patients)
  • Impaired judgment
  • Faulty reasoning
  • Inappropriate or uncharacteristic behavior
  • Disorientation to time and place
  • Decline in communication skills
  • Neglect of personal care or safety
  • Gait, motor and balance impairment
  • Inability to perform activities of daily living that have been previously mastered
  • Paranoia or hallucinations

Alzheimer’s disease on the other hand is a specific condition that is diagnosed following an observation and examination of signs and symptoms, and identifying these with those that fall under the symptom bracket of those of dementia. It can be said therefore, that Alzheimer’s disease is a condition where structural, biochemical or electrical abnormalities in the brain, whether due to aging or injury to the brain, causes dementia.

Because dementia is simply a collection of neurological symptoms, arriving at a diagnosis for a specific disease that may be the direct cause of the symptoms requires further examination and observation. Dementia is the symptomatic gateway that will lead a medical professional to a particular problem based on the set of symptoms described or observed. When a specific underlying pathological cause for the symptoms can be found, it is identified as a type of dementia.

Types of dementia may include but are not limited to:

  • Parkinson’s disease
  • ​Dementia with Lewy Bodies (DLB)
  • Vascular dementia
  • Frontotemporal dementia
  • Mixed dementia
  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
  • Normal pressure hydrocephalus

In order to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease, a medical professional would usually ask questions to the patient and/or the patient’s family or friends regarding the patient’s overall health, medical history and mental state. The doctor may also conduct test for memory, problem solving and other cognitive skills. The medical professional may also conduct various brain scans such as CT- or MRI scans. Any blood and urine tests may be carried out to exclude other physiological or biological causes for dementia.

Since Alzheimer’s disease mainly affects the cerebrum; the part of the brain that is responsible for coordinating learning processes, one of the earliest common signs of the disease is difficulty in remembering newly learned information, among other signs of dementia. However, a definitive diagnosis for Alzheimer’s disease can really only be made after death when previous clinical measures such as various brain scans are then linked with results found from actual examinations of brain tissue in an autopsy.

It is generally thought that some types of dementia can in fact be slowed down or even completely reversed. This depends on a number of factors such as the cause of the symptoms or the progression of deterioration. It is usually easier and more feasible to slow down or reverse dementia that is caused by external factors such as drug interaction or vitamin deficiency, as opposed to a physiological cause such as a deterioration of the brain or part thereof.

It is therefore quite important to make a distinction between Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia as the management strategies for the different types of dementia are highly variable. Alzheimer’s disease depends largely on a management of symptoms to improve the quality of life of a patient as there is no known cure for the disease at this stage, unlike some types of dementia.

Other than an impaired learning ability, Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by memory loss. It is the particular nature of the memory loss that will point medical professionals to the direction of Alzheimer’s disease as opposed to an alternative type of dementia.

 The type of memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s disease includes:

  • Episodic memory loss

This is loss of short term memory as opposed to long term memory. Patients will usually remember events that have occurred in the more distant past than an event that occurred less than an hour ago. These memories usually have no relevance to the present.

  • Semantic memory loss

The loss of memory of words and their meanings. A patient may forget the meaning of a word or the word itself whereas the word has been a part of the person’s dialect.

  • Procedural memory

Losing the memory used by a person to carry out daily living activities and actions. This can range form forgetting how to use a fork and knife to forgetting how to play a game that was previously mastered. The patient would, as a result of procedural memory loss, be unable to carry out activities such as bathing, dressing, gardening etc.

Alzheimer’s patients may also be affected by The Syndrome Apraxia- Aphasia- Agnosia, which describes characteristic loss of coordination, communication and understanding, respectively.

When a patient presents with these specific set of typical symptoms, a medical professional will then usually definitely diagnose dementia to describe the collection of symptoms and will only then observe, examine and investigate further in order to specify Alzheimer’s disease as a possible cause for dementia based on the premise of exclusion of any other type of dementia.

The difference between Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, essentially, is that dementia is the effect for which Alzheimer’s disease is the cause. Alzheimer’s disease causes a set of symptoms which collectively are called “dementia”. Moreover, dementia is not even a true disease in its own right at all; hence it is not called as such.

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 References

  1. Ferri FF. Alzheimer's disease. In: Ferri's Clinical Advisor 2016. Philadelphia, Pa.: Mosby Elsevier; 2016. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Sept. 20, 2015.
  2. Alzheimer's disease fact sheet. National Institute on Aging. https://www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers/publication/alzheimers-disease-fact-sheet. Accessed Sept. 20, 2015.
  3. Grabowski TJ. Clinical features and diagnosis of Alzheimer disease. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Sept. 21, 2015.
  4. Longo DL, et al. Alzheimer's disease and other dementias. In: Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. 18th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2012. http://www.accessmedicine.com. Accessed Sept. 24, 2015.
  5. Goldman L, et al., eds. Alzheimer disease and other dementias. In: Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2016. http://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Sept. 20, 2015.
  6. Halter JB, et al. Dementia including Alzheimer's disease. In: Hazzard's Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology. 6th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2009. http://www.accessmedicine.com. Accessed Sept. 24, 2015.
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