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
- An inability to perform complicated tasks
- Agitation and paranoia
- 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 from 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
- 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.
Although 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.
While everyone should have an estate plan, it is especially important for families living with Alzheimer's disease. If you or a loved one has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, and you do not have estate planning documents like a will, Power of Attorney, or advanced directive, please contact our office as soon as possible. Estate planning documents require the person who signs them to have the legal capacity to understand the documents' consequences. In most cases, someone who has just received a diagnosis of Alzheimer's can understand the meaning and importance of a given document and therefore has the legal capacity to sign it. However, the ability to understand the implications of legal documents may decline as the disease progresses.
We can guide you through all the legal ramifications surrounding an Alzheimer's diagnosis, including medical and asset protection planning, advanced directives and guardianship. We understand what you are going through during this difficult time and are here to help.
Get the legal protection that adds peace of mind to you and your family. Call for a complimentary consultation at 260-969-1177.
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.
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