Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia: What Should We Know About These Brain Diseases?
Alzheimer’s and Dementia: What is the difference?
Many people confuse Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and dementia, but it’s crucial to understand that they are not the same.1
Dementia describes symptoms such as a decline in memory, reasoning, or other cognitive abilities. These symptoms can be severe and significantly affect daily life activities. 1
When we talk about dementia, we're referring to a general term that covers various conditions. But AD is a specific disease within the dementia category. 1 In fact, it's the most common cause of dementia, affecting about 44 million people worldwide and 6.2 million Americans.2
Types of Dementia
While AD is widely recognized, there are other types of dementia worth knowing about. Here are the most common ones:1
- Vascular dementia – it occurs due to reduced blood flow to the bra, in and it is the second most common type of dementia.
- Dementia with Lewy bodies – it’s when tiny clumps of proteins known as Lewy bodies appear in nerve cells of the brain. This build-up of protein causes problems with thinking, movement, and mood.
- Frontotemporal dementia – it’s a type of dementia in which the nerve cells in the two sets of lobes in the brain are damaged.
- Mixed dementia – it’s when the person has more than one type of dementia.
- Young-onset dementia – it’s when a person develops dementia before the age of 65.
AD is a degenerative disease in which complex brain changes lead to cell damage. The condition has no cure and is associated with dementia symptoms that worsen over time.3
Early signs of AD include:3
- Trouble remembering things.
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks.
- Confusion with time or place.
- Challenges in solving problems.
- Struggle with words when speaking or writing.
As the disease progresses, the person may develop more severe symptoms, such as:3
- Mood and personality changes.
- Increased anxiety and aggression.
- Difficulty completing everyday tasks.
- Poor judgment.
- Loss of spontaneity.
- Wandering and getting lost.
- Bowel and bladder incontinence.
- Difficulty communicating.
- Need assistance with daily personal care.
- Experience changes in physical abilities such as walking, sitting, and swallowing.
- Vulnerability to infections.
Diagnosis and Treatment
When memory impairment is suspected, the doctor will order tests to discover the causes of cognitive decline. These tests include physical and mental status examinations, basic lab tests, and neuroimaging studies. It’s also important to look at the patient’s detailed medical history.2
There’s currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. But treating its symptoms may help people with this condition live better for longer and reduce the burden on their caregivers.4
Cholinesterase inhibitors are medications that can help alleviate or manage certain cognitive and behavioral symptoms in individuals with mild to moderate AD. These drugs inhibit the breakdown of acetylcholine, a crucial brain chemical involved in memory and cognitive functions.4
Immunotherapies are designed to target the protein beta-amyloid, aiming to decrease the accumulation of amyloid plaques, a characteristic brain alteration in AD. However, clinical trials have only been conducted in individuals with early-stage Alzheimer's or mild cognitive impairment.4
Memantine, an N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) antagonist, is another medication used for treating AD. It regulates glutamate, an essential brain chemical that can lead to cell death when produced in excess.4
Prevention and good nutrition
To date, no specific intervention has been shown to prevent or delay dementia caused by AD. But researchers are studying the effects of some promising strategies, such as getting more physical exercise and controlling blood pressure.5
Certain diets and healthy eating patterns have been linked to cognitive benefits, like the Mediterranean and DASH diets. However, there’s no solid evidence that these diets can prevent Alzheimer's disease.5
Taking care of your body, mind, and brain through healthy choices can make a difference. So even though we can't guarantee Alzheimer's prevention, embracing a healthy lifestyle is definitely a smart move.
- Alzheimer’s Society. Types of dementia.
- Delaware Journal of Public Health. Diagnosis and Treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease: An Update.
- National Institute on Aging. What Are the Signs of Alzheimer's Disease?
- National Institute on Aging. How Is Alzheimer's Disease Treated?
- National Institute on Aging. Preventing Alzheimer's Disease: What Do We Know?