What’s the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia?

Fran Vandelli
Dementia Lead for Bupa Care Services Richmond Villages
11 November 2021
Next review due November 2024

Dementia is a syndrome that effects the way your brain works. This can include changes to your memory, thinking and language. The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. Here, I’ll explain more about dementia and Alzheimer’s, and what’s meant by both terms.

A man being visited by his carer

What is dementia?

The word ‘dementia’ doesn’t refer to one specific condition. Instead, it describes the symptoms that are caused by a decline in your brain function. This means your brain isn’t working as well as it used to. These symptoms can include problems with thinking and reasoning, as well as behaviour changes.

Dementia is not the same as the normal forgetfulness that often comes with ageing, but it is more likely to affect older people. Over 850,000 people live with dementia in the UK. It can be caused by a lot of different conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease. In the UK, around six in every 10 cases of dementia are caused by Alzheimer’s disease.

What is Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s disease affects your nerve cells. Your nerve cells act as messengers between your brain and the rest of your body. When the connections between these cells are damaged by Alzheimer’s it causes problems with the way you think, plan, reason and remember.

Although Alzheimer’s disease is a cause of dementia, you’ll often hear it referred to as a type or form of dementia.

What are the symptoms of dementia?

Everybody with dementia will experience symptoms differently. It also depends on what is causing the dementia. Most dementia symptoms fall into three categories.

  • Difficulties with remembering, thinking and language. For example, being forgetful, disorientated and repeating questions. Or struggling to remember words and have conversations.
  • Difficulties completing daily activities. For example, struggling to take care of yourself or your home, or getting lost in familiar places.
  • Emotional problems and changes in behaviour. For example, becoming withdrawn, low or anxious, being restless and have trouble sleeping.

Sometimes people with Alzheimer’s struggle to communicate how they’re feeling because of the changes to their brain. This means they might get upset or act aggressively if they’re feel scared, upset or confused.

What are the symptoms of Alzheimer’s?

If you have Alzheimer’s, the first symptom tends to be problems with your memory. You might also lose interest in your favourite activities or hobbies. Other early symptoms might include finding it difficult to do daily tasks. You may also befeeling more irritable than usual.

Alzheimer’s tends to develop gradually. Over time your symptoms tend to get worse, and new ones may appear.

As time goes on, you may get more confused, and struggle to plan and follow instructions. In the later stages of Alzheimer’s, more serious symptoms can appear. This can include hallucinations, having trouble swallowing and difficulty moving around.

Are there treatments for Alzheimer’s and dementia?

There are some non-medical treatment options, which can help you live well with dementia. These include emotional support and activities to support your physical and mental health.

There are also medical treatments available for some causes of dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease. The aim of treatment is to help your brain function. They can help you live independently and manage your symptoms.

Current treatments can slow the progress of Alzheimer’s disease. But they won’t stop it completely or reverse its effects. It’s also important to know that treatment doesn’t work for everyone.

Can I reduce my risk of dementia?

There are a few factors than can affect how likely you are to get dementia. Some of these are things you can’t change, such as getting older. Alzheimer’s disease is also more common in women.

But the good news is that there are some things you can do to reduce your risk. These include:

If you have health conditions such as diabetes, heart problems, high cholesterol or high blood pressure try to manage these. Speak to your doctor if you’re not sure how to do this.

There is also some evidence that staying mentally and socially active in later life can lower your risk. Try including activities into your routine such as:

  • doing puzzles, crosswords or sudoku
  • reading
  • learning something new
  • connecting with your family and friends

Even healthy people become unhealthy sometimes. Health insurance can help you get prompt access to the treatment and support you need to help you get back on the road to recovery. Learn more with our useful guide to understanding health insurance.

Fran Vandelli
Fran Vandelli (she/her)
Dementia Lead for Bupa Care Services Richmond Villages

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