The Difference Between Alzheimer's Disease and Dementia

Many people think that Alzheimer's disease and dementia are interchangeable terms for the same medical condition. This is not the case. Dementia is an umbrella term that encompasses a variety of conditions associated with memory loss. Alzheimer's disease, on the other hand, is a specific type of dementia. Let's look at some of the similarities and differences between the two. 

The causes and symptoms of dementia

Dementia, in general, is caused by damage to cells in the brain resulting in the damaged cells inability to function the way they normally would. There are a variety of factors that can lead to brain cell damage, and these factors are what often distinguish one type of dementia from another. For instance, what is known as vascular dementia is typically caused by a stroke, whereas Lewy body dementia is caused by protein deposits (Lewy bodies) forming in sections of the brain responsible for memory, thinking, and motor control. 

Unfortunately, scientists do not know what causes Lewy bodies to form in the first place.

While the symptoms of dementia vary from one case to the next, they may include:

  • Loss of memory
  • Difficulty with planning and organization
  • Disorientation
  • An inability to perform complicated tasks
  • Agitation and paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Depression
  • Spatial and visual challenges

The causes and symptoms of Alzheimer's disease

Alzheimer's disease stems from a protein, called beta-amyloid, building up in the brain between nerve cells to form what are known as plaques. There is another protein, called tau, that accumulates in the brain and forms what are called tangles. This results in the neurons of the brain shrinking, and eventually, dying. As with Lewy body dementia, scientists do not know precisely what causes the initial onset of the protein build ups that lead to Alzheimer's disease.

The symptoms of Alzheimer's disease may include:

  • Short-term memory problems, and eventually, loss of long-term memory
  • Confusion
  • Impaired judgment
  • Repeating the same questions and statements
  • Getting lost, even in familiar surroundings
  • Personality changes
  • Changes in sleep patterns, such as sleeping during the day and being awake at night
  • Paranoia, delusions, and hallucinations
  • Eventually, an inability to accomplish routine tasks like dressing, preparing food, and even swallowing

While all forms of dementia are progressive, some types allow for longer life spans than others. For instance, the average life expectancy in cases of Alzheimer's disease is eight to 10 years, while in cases of vascular dementia the figure is five years.

While there is currently no cure for dementia, the good news is that numerous research studies and clinical trials are exploring ways to diagnose, treat, and manage it. Some medications, including cholinesterase inhibitors and memantine, have been shown to lessen or delay the cognitive symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. Various strategies have also been developed to improve the quality of life and comfort of people with Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia. Hopefully, science will soon discover more effective treatments, and ultimately, a cure.

 

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with dementia, you can find additional information and support by visiting www.alz.org and www.dementiasociety.org.

 

Seize Control Over Incapacity with Durable Powers of Attorney

Incapacity is defined, from a legal standpoint, as the inability to make sound decisions regarding one's personal or financial affairs. Failing to plan for the possibility of incapacity in advance can create significant problems for seniors and their loved ones, particularly with regard to managing assets and medical care. This is why we recommend that all of our clients have us design durable powers of attorney for medical care and finances. Here are some of the most important reasons to have your own durable powers of attorney.

If you become incapacitated, you are able to choose the person who makes financial and medical decisions on your behalf rather than the court.

Without powers of attorney, the court will appoint someone to manage your financial affairs and medical care in the event of incapacity. The person named by the court could very well be someone you would never have wanted to make important decisions on your behalf. In addition, the court processes involved are expensive, time-consuming and stressful for members of your family.

With durable powers of attorney, you are able to name a person (or persons) you know and trust to make crucial medical and financial decisions on your behalf.

You have the power to decide what types of decisions your agent can make.

That is, you determine how much authority your agent will have over your affairs. The agent's authority can be rather broad or extremely limited--the decision is yours. Not all Power of Attorney are created equal. Just because it says Durable Power does NOT mean that it allows you full freedom to act. In fact, most Powers of Attorney are so limited or restrictive that they cannot be used at all in a nursing home crisis situation. You can also choose to name multiple agents and mandate that they must work together, or if you prefer, you can authorize them to work independently. It is always a good idea to name alternate agents in case your first choice is unable to serve due to illness or other reasons.

Durable powers of attorney help prevent disputes about your wishes.

You have undoubtedly heard about expensive and highly emotional court battles over what a person "would have wanted" before he or she became incapacitated. With properly designed durable powers of attorney, together with other advance directives, you can help ensure that your wishes regarding financial and medical matters will be carried out.

Durable powers of attorney provide you and your family with greater peace of mind.

With durable powers of attorney and other advance directives in place, you will enjoy the peace of mind that comes from knowing your wishes regarding the management of your assets and medical care will be honored. In addition, your family will be spared the stress of making important decisions on your behalf without knowing what you would have wanted.