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Alzheimer’s vs. Dementia Care

Alzheimer’s and dementia are terms often used interchangeably, but understanding their distinctions and the care required for each is crucial for providing the best support for loved ones.

To start, let’s talk about the main difference between the two:

  • Dementia can serve as an umbrella term because it isn’t one specific disease but includes many different types of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s. It’s a group of symptoms related to cognitive impairment that comes with age.
  • Alzheimer’s is one type of dementia that leads to memory loss and other losses of function. It is the most common form of dementia and accounts for 60-80% of American dementia cases. It progresses gradually, leading to memory loss, impairment of cognitive functions, and changes in behavior.

Keep reading to learn about the various aspects of Alzheimer’s and dementia care, highlighting types of dementia, the essentials of dementia caregiving, and resources available for support.

Conditions Under the Dementia Umbrella (Including Alzheimer’s)

There is a spectrum of conditions under the umbrella term “dementia,” but most of them begin with the same symptoms. For instance, the early stages of dementia often start with little episodes of forgetfulness— older adults may not even be aware that anything is wrong. But with time, these episodes become more serious; examples include beginning to forget familiar faces and dates, having difficulty recalling names, misplacing things, and having problems communicating.

Once you see these symptoms arise, it could be any one of these conditions:

  • Alzheimer’s: This is the most common and most diagnosed type of dementia. Those in any stage of Alzheimer’s lose track of short-term memories but may not lose their long-term memories right away. When diagnosing dementia versus Alzheimer’s, the doctor will primarily need to establish that the patient suffers from dementia first and only then search for symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
  • Vascular Dementia: Caused by reduced blood flow to the brain, often following a stroke.
  • Dementia with Lewy Bodies: Involves abnormal protein deposits in the brain, leading to movement problems and visual hallucinations.
  • Frontotemporal Dementia: Affects the frontal and temporal lobes, leading to personality changes and language difficulties.
  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD): This is the rarest form of dementia and happens when a protein folds into an abnormal shape and other proteins follow suit. It damages brain cells and triggers a fast mental decline. CJD can also cause mood changes, confusion, twitchy or jerky movements, and trouble walking.
  • Huntington’s Disease: This is a hereditary disease that affects the central part of the brain that helps you think, move, and show emotion. Symptoms usually start between the ages of 30 and 50. The first signs are uncontrolled arm, leg, head, face, and upper body movements. It also leads to problems with memory, concentration, judgment, reasoning, and planning.
  • Mixed Dementia: Sometimes, changes are caused by two or more types of dementia. For example, you may have vascular dementia (blocked or damaged blood vessels in your brain) and Alzheimer’s disease (brain plaques and tangles) simultaneously.

Essentials of Alzheimer’s & Dementia Care

Regardless of the type of dementia your loved one has, the care should have all of these essential features:

  • Caregivers: Whether it’s family members or professionals, care providers are integral to the well-being of individuals with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. They assist with daily activities, manage medical care, and provide emotional support.
  • Care Plans: A personalized care plan is essential for addressing the unique daily life needs of individuals with dementia and Alzheimer’s. This plan should consider the person’s history, preferences, and healthcare requirements. As the disease progresses through different stages, the care plan must adapt to ensure the highest quality of life.
  • Enhancing Quality of Life: Maintaining a high quality of life for individuals with dementia involves addressing their physical, emotional, and social needs. Activities that stimulate cognitive function, promote physical health, and encourage social interaction are beneficial. Healthy aging practices, such as regular exercise, a balanced diet, and mental health support, are crucial for both individuals with dementia and their caregivers.
  • Support for the Whole Family: Family caregivers often face significant emotional and physical stress. Respite care provides temporary relief for caregivers. The Alzheimer’s Association and local resources offer valuable support groups and educational materials for caregivers, helping them navigate the challenges of Alzheimer’s caregiving.
  • Long-Term and End-of-Life Care: As dementia progresses to more advanced stages, long-term care options, including nursing homes and specialized memory care communities, may become necessary. End-of-life care, including hospice care, focuses on comfort and dignity, ensuring that individuals receive compassionate care during their final stages.

Seeking Help and Resources

If you notice symptoms of dementia in a loved one, seeking help from healthcare professionals is essential. Early diagnosis and intervention can improve the management of the condition. The CDC’s website, CDC.gov, and other government resources provide information on clinical trials, risk factors, and decision-making processes for memory care.

Learn More With Avista Senior Living

Alzheimer’s and dementia care both require a comprehensive approach that includes medical management, personalized care plans, and support for caregivers. By understanding the different types of related dementia, utilizing available resources, and prioritizing quality of life, caregivers can provide the best possible care for their loved ones. Whether through home care, long-term care, or hospice care, the goal remains to support individuals with dementia in living fulfilling and dignified lives.

For more information on Alzheimer’s care and dementia-related resources, contact Avista Senior Living. Remember, you are not alone in this journey, and help is available to ensure the well-being of both caregivers and those they care for.

Disclaimers: This article is for informational purposes only.

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