Is Alzheimer’s dementia?

A cyberfriend suggested I write about this; “Alzheimer’s disease has one image, dementia another.”  Last week at the launch of a DVD made by Domiciliary Care SA about younger onset dementia, I was asked by a woman if Alzheimer’s was dementia. This was curious to me, as the group in attendance were all people related to the service provision of people with dementia, and simply showed the ignorance that is still out there, not just within the community not affected (yet) by dementia, but by some working in that area.

It seems as if there are more stigmas associated with the term dementia. Often people refer to Alzheimer’s disease as ‘Old-timer’s disease’, almost jokingly as if it is a normal part of ageing. Whereas, the term dementia is more likely to be denied, and I have heard many say they are glad it is not dementia, it is only Alzheimer’s. There is a gross misunderstanding in the community; heightened by the fact the very organisations supporting people with dementia and their families are called Alzheimer’s Associations.

Recently I watched a DVD, prepared for families caring for loved ones with dementia for an organisation called Seniors Helpers. It was produced in partnership with Teepa Snow, a Dementia Care Specialist in the USA, and she talks about the difference between Alzheimer’s and Dementia. Her analogy is brilliant, and I think many will find it helpful. Dementia is a group of diseases, a syndrome rather than a diagnosis. It is an umbrella term for the many different types of dementia. She likens dementia to fruit. Fruit is a term for hundreds of types of fruit. Then there are subheadings like apples and oranges, and under those subheadings of fruit, there are different types of apples and oranges. Seniors Helpers is an international organisation, so if you wanted to see this DVD, contact them in your country.

Here is a simple explanation of dementia.

Dementia is a clinical syndrome of organic origin, characterised by slow onset of decline in multiple cognitive functions; the gradual deterioration of functioning, such as thinking, concentration, memory, and judgment, which affects a person’s ability to perform normal daily activities. It is a terminal illness. Dementia is not a specific disease; it is simply a word for a group of symptoms that affect cognition and thinking. There are approximately 100 types and causes of dementia; Alzheimer’s disease is one type of dementia, and is the most common making up between 50-70% of diagnoses of dementia. Dementia can also be caused by stroke and other medical conditions. Dementia occurs primarily in people who are over the age of 65, or in those with an injury or disease that affects brain function. Dementia can also be caused by drug and/or alcohol abuse. While dementia is most commonly seen in the elderly, it is not a normal consequence of the aging process. Dementia over the age of 65 is known as ‘Older Onset dementia’, and under the age of 65 as ‘Younger onset dementia’. Alzheimer’s is currently not just incurable but untreatable. The available drugs can alleviate some of the symptoms, but they don’t slow the disease. There are currently no treatment options for the other types of dementia. I once wrote, Dementia represents the end of dreaming, a long and unforgiving one way odyssey into obscurity, clouded in a thick and unforgiving fog (2009).

Symptoms of dementia

The symptoms of dementia are similar whatever the person’s age. Dementia affects the brain in many ways and may cause:

  • Memory loss
  • Mood changes and inappropriate interactions
  • Disorientation in time, day and place
  • Difficulties in communication
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Personality changes
  • Difficulties in recognition, understanding and comprehension
  • Behavioural changes

Younger Onset Dementia 

Any dementia beginning before the age of 65 is known as younger onset dementia. There are estimated to be approximately 16 000 Australians currently living with younger onset dementia but there are very few age appropriate services to cater for their specific needs. Through targeted promotion and advocacy, it is aimed to raise the profile of the illness and the impact it has on those affected by it.

Although the symptoms of dementia are similar whatever a person’s age, younger people with dementia have additional issues. They may:

  • Be in work at the time of diagnosis
  • Have dependent children still living at home
  • Have significant financial commitments
  • Be physically fit and behave in ways that other people find challenging
  • Be more aware of their disease in the early stages
  • Find  it hard to accept and cope with losing skills at such a young age
  • Find it difficult to access information, support and services aimed for people over 65
  • Have a partner who is still in fulltime employment
  • Often have the rarer types of dementia (such as fronto temporal and Lewy body) which present with more challenging behaviours
  • Usually a poorer prognosis to older onset dementias

15 thoughts on “Is Alzheimer’s dementia?

  1. This is a very fascinating topic, Kate. Strangely, before my Grandad was diagnosed with Alzhiermers, i strangely used to think that Alzhiermers and dementia were two different illnesses, and i used to get confused between them, but once he was diagnosed, i then learnt that Alzhiermers was a type of dementia, and dementia is an umberalla term used to describe a number of conditions.

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  2. Pingback: Dementia myths « Creating life with words – Inspiration, love and truth

  3. Hi. I started following your blog while ago but had not taken the reading seriously yet. I began reading today but since you write everyday for over a year I didn’t know if I would have time to read everything, so I picked this post first. It grabbed my attention as I love talking about misconceptions, and sadly that’a what dementia is: a tale of misconception. I can forgive someone who has never dealt with anyone with dementia before as it’s no-one’s obligation to know everything about everything, but it’s a shame that we come across people who work in the field and still don’t know the basis about it. I am a psychology graduate and I’m working as a carer to a lady with Alzheimer’s. I knew nothing about it before starting but I felt ashamed of going into it not fully understanding it so I began to study it, and even know it is not a requirement in my job I am still doing it months into it. I feel that I owe it to someone who is going through a heck of a lot more than I would by just reading up a little on the topic everyday. I am loving your blog so far. If you find some time check mine out-I began writing weekly posts with a humourous tone in the form of short stories about my experiences as a dementia carer thrown in at the deep end.

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    • Hi, thanks for joining the conversation, and for following my blog. I’ve had a look at yours, and like it a lot. The use of balloons resonates with me as I use them as a visual representation of where my thoughts go ‘flying high above my head in an auditorium like helium balloons, out of my reach’! My one concern with yor blog, is do the family of, and the lady you care for know you are writing about your shared experience??? And well done on your studies, and for wanting to be a carer… it is an incredibly challenging job, but full of beautiful experiences if you can see them that way. With love and hope, Kate

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      • Hi Kate. I’ve had that concern put to me before. Dorothy’s niece who ahe lives with is aware of it and has veen given the chance to read it – she is very busy so whether she does or not I don’t know. Dorothy’s best friend of over 50 years is aware of it and excited about it. I am thinking of asking for her niece and sister to sign a consent form just in case, and I might change names just in case. Thank u for the.advice and support. I find it amazing that you set yourself the challenge of writing this blog. It reminds me of working as a respite carer to a boy with Autism and struggling to REALLY undersrand it from books written by parents and specialiast-until I came across one written by someone with Autism-it doea so much more justice to any condition to hear it from the people going through it x

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      • I’d have to say if it was me you were writing about, I would not like it at all. I read other carers blogs regularly, and always feel sick in my stomach to thinksomeone might write about me like that one day although I guess I am doing it in reverse. My general rule though is to write about MY own experience, which of course includes others some of the time. My family HATED it initially too, but I do try really hard to make sure what I say about them is very general, or nothing they would take offense to. Sometimes I check with them first, and am told NO, please do not write about that. Stay true to your heart, and respectful to your client, and I feel sure all will be ok. It is important to have two sides of every story, but there are so few writing about it from my side of the fence, it can feel very unbalanced. Ps. I hope you don’t mind me telling you how I feel? Take care, Kate

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  4. I find this subject so hard to rationalize. My husband and I spent five years of our life working, caring and helping his aunt and uncle who both had Alzheimers which I believe has symptoms of dementia but the end of their life was so crippling in mind and body. There has to be a cause and a cure of this horrific disease. Their lives in two years went from bad to unexplainable and knowing the two of them they would have been devastated to know the things they were doing. They were like Jeckle and Hyde. I can only pray that you will not go through the things they went through. I will pray daily for you, I promise. God will protect you!

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  5. Thanks Kate.

    I believe society has given dementia a bad reputation by phrases like

    “Don’t worry about him – he’s demented” ie. he’s just mad.

    I believe that most people think that dementia includes some kind of madness ….. well, while it’s true that some have behavioural problems, in the whole scheme of things, including all the people with the different subsets of dementia, it’s very few that are like this. Yet the term ‘dementia’ bears the bad reputation.

    Know what I mean?

    Actually – I just decided to google definition of dementia and this came up

    Adjective:
    -Suffering from dementia.
    -Driven to behave irrationally due to anger, distress, or excitement. – a demented, dangerous, and sadistic Mafioso

    This is exactly what I hate about putting everything in the basket of “dementia”.

    I emailed you (I think!) and American proposal being considered in Australia – to call all these diseases “neurodegenerative diseases” ……. rather than dementia.

    If you got this email you might like to mention this in another blog post …… especially the terrible definition that dementia has in the dictionary!!!

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