If you have a parent, grandparent, or other older family member who is starting to show signs of physical and/or mental deterioration, the fear of Alzheimer’s disease may loom large in your subconscious. Maybe your loved one has already been diagnosed with the early stages of dementia and you are concerned about what to expect in the future. Although we often use the terms “dementia” and “Alzheimer’s” interchangeably, they aren’t quite the same thing. An Oklahoma City elder law attorney at Parman & Easterday helps you to understand the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Dementia is a broad term used to refer to a group of symptoms that may include impaired thinking and memory. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke defines dementia as a “word for a group of symptoms caused by disorders that affect the brain. It is not a specific disease. People with dementia may not be able to think well enough to do normal activities, such as getting dressed or eating. They may lose their ability to solve problems or control their emotions. Their personalities may change. They may become agitated or see things that are not there.”
Dementia is often associated with the natural cognitive decline that occurs with aging. While Alzheimer’s can lead to dementia, conditions other than Alzheimer’s can also be the root cause of dementia, such as Huntington’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Although the most well-known symptom associated with dementia is memory difficulty, there are other areas of cognitive functioning that can also be affected by dementia, including problem solving, spatial skills, and language, as well as attention, judgment, and organizational abilities.
Another characteristic of dementia that distinguishes it from Alzheimer’s is that some causes of dementia are reversible. Thyroid conditions or vitamin deficiencies, for example, can cause dementia; however, if they are identified and treated the dementia associated with these conditions can be reversed. Alzheimer’s related dementia, however, cannot be reversed. Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s accounts for about three out of every four cases of dementia.
Understanding Alzheimer’s Disease
While it may sound like a high school logic problem, the best way to understand the relationship between Alzheimer’s and dementia is to remember that Alzheimer’s causes dementia but not all dementia is caused by Alzheimer’s. Put another way, you can have dementia without having Alzheimer’s but you cannot have Alzheimer’s without dementia.
Despite common misperceptions, Alzheimer’s disease is not a new phenomenon. The disease was first identified in 1906 when a physician named Dr. Alois Alzheimer discovered changes in the brain tissue of a woman who died from an unidentified mental illness. Prior to her death, the woman reportedly suffered from memory loss, language problems, and unpredictable behavior. After her death, an examination of her brain identified numerous abnormal clumps of protein plaques and tangled fibers.
Today, Alzheimer’s disease is referred to as a specific and progressive brain disease that destroys brain cells and in turn impairs memory, thinking, and behavior. The symptoms of Alzheimer’s will typically increase in severity over time and begin to affect employment, hobbies and social life, eventually resulting in dementia. Alzheimer’s often causes a gradual decline in cognitive abilities over a period of several years and is ultimately fatal. It can on occasion, though, progress much more quickly.
Although there is a form of Alzheimer’s known as “early onset Alzheimer’s,” most sufferers do not begin to experience symptoms until they are retirement age. Alzheimer’s symptoms include getting lost, asking repetitive questions, experiencing difficulty handling money and paying bills, making poor decisions, frequently misplacing items and undergoing personality changes. Completing daily tasks such as bathing or dressing may take longer than normal. In the later stages of the disease, Alzheimer’s may cause loss of the ability to communicate and to recognize oneself or loved ones.
Contact an Oklahoma City Elder Law Attorney
For additional information, please join us for an upcoming FREE seminar. If you have additional questions or concerns about dementia or Alzheimer’s, or have other elder law related questions, contact an experienced Oklahoma City elder law attorney at Parman & Easterday by calling 405-843-6100 or 913-385-9400 to schedule your appointment today.