Alzheimer’s and Dementia: The Differences, Causes, and Tips

difference alzheimer's dementia tips

Alzheimer’s disease is a very real fear many people have as they age. This is particularly true if they have seen their own loved one’s struggle with this brain disorder that essentially breaks down memory and thinking skills eventually leading to the inability to carry out the simplest tasks. Unfortunately, it’s estimated that 1 in 9 people over the age of 65 has or will get Alzheimer’s, totally more than 6 million Americans, according to studies. This number is projected to increase to almost 13 million by 2050. And with no single cause or cure, it can feel like you’re walking into an unavoidable situation. However, there are many things you can do to keep your brain healthy and sharp, and to prevent Alzheimer’s disease altogether or to decrease the progression of the disease if you are already diagnosed. In this article, we cover everything you need to know about this type of dementia, so you can take control of your brain health.

What is the Difference Between Alzheimer’s and Dementia?

First things first, you have likely noticed that dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are often used interchangeably. This can seem confusing, as most of us know them as two entirely separate brain disorders. However, dementia is a general term used to describe the continuous decline of cognitive functioning, such as thinking, remembering and reasoning. It is not a single disease, but rather, different diseases cause dementia, such as Alzheimer’s, which is a specific brain disease. Both affect a person’s ability to function independently.

What is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Now that we have taken care of the prior, let’s discuss what Alzheimer’s Disease is. The more technical description of Alzheimer’s disease is that it is a neurological disorder that progressively causes the brain to shrink and brain cells to die. It slowly deteriorates memory and thinking skills, eventually leading to the inability to complete even the simplest daily tasks. Eventually, it affects most areas of the brain, including memory, thinking, judgment, language, problem-solving, personality and movement.

Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most common causes of dementia (the continuous decline of cognitive functioning) and has five stages:

  • Stage One: Preclinical Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Stage Two: Mild Cognitive Impairment (due to Alzheimer’s)
  • Stage Three: Mild Dementia (due to Alzheimer’s)
  • Stage Four: Moderate Dementia (due to Alzheimer’s)
  • Stage Five: Severe Dementia (due to Alzheimer’s)

Keep in mind, dementia is a term used to describe the decline in intellectual and social abilities that disrupt daily function. Knowing this can help you understand the different stages better and understanding the different stages allows you to have a better comprehension of what might happen. Although, keep in mind that everyone’s experience with Alzheimer’s is different.

Here’s a quick crash course:

  • Stage One: Preclinical Alzheimer’s Disease
    • Alzheimer’s begins before any symptoms are present
    • You won’t notice any changes but it can be detected with new technology
    • This stage can last for years, even decades
  • Stage Two: Mild Cognitive Impairment (due to Alzheimer’s)
    • Mild changes in memory and thinking
    • Symptoms aren’t significant enough to affect daily life and relationships yet
    • Difficulty remembering things that are usually easy to remember, such as conversations, recent events, appointments, etc.
    • Struggle with time management or the steps or sequence needed to complete a task
  • Stage Three: Mild Dementia (due to Alzheimer’s)
    • Alzheimer’s disease is often diagnosed in this stage
    • Symptoms become apparent to family and doctors and the impact they have on daily functioning
    • May experience memory loss of recent events, difficulty problem solving, organizing and expressing thoughts, complex tasks or making sound judgements
    • Simple tasks may become overwhelming
    • Changes in personality may be experienced
    • Increasing difficulty getting around or finding belongings
  • Stage Four: Moderate Dementia (due to Alzheimer’s)
    • People tend to become more confused and forgetful in this stage
    • Need help with daily activities and self-care
    • Increasingly poor judgement and greater memory loss
    • Significant changes in personality and behavior
    • Unfound suspicions (thinking people are stealing from them, a spouse is having an affair, seeing or hearing things that aren’t there, etc.)
    • More restless, agitated and may even have outbursts of aggressive behaviour
  • Stage Five: Severe Dementia (due to Alzheimer’s)
    • Growing impact on movement and physical capabilities
    • Can no longer communicate coherently
    • Daily assistance with personal care is needed
    • A decline in physical abilities

What Causes Alzheimer’s?

Unfortunately, there is no single cause for Alzheimer’s, which makes it difficult to understand what can be done to prevent and treat it. However, many experts believe that it may be caused by the abnormal buildup of the amyloid (around the brain cells) and tau proteins, which forms ‘tangles’ within the brain cells. More research is needed to confirm this theory, but it’s certainly a good start.

However, there are a variety of risk factors that have been linked to increasing one’s likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s, such as:

New research has also found that there are other risk factors that are worth considering. While they may not directly cause dementia or Alzheimer’s, they can certainly contribute to it. This includes things, such as:

How to Slow Down the Progression of Alzheimer’s Disease

Although there isn’t a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, researchers continue to look for treatments and medications that can help those with Alzheimer’s. However, attention has recently shifted towards finding and implementing preventative measures to delay the onset and progression of the disease.  Here are some things you’ll want to prioritize to improve your brain health and keep Alzheimer’s at bay.

Get a Sufficient Amount of Quality Sleep

New studies suggest that the amount of quality sleep you get each night may be linked to the amyloids in the brain (a contributing factor for the development of Alzheimer’s). These amyloids create a buildup around the brain, as discussed earlier. However, experts are now suggesting that getting sufficient quality sleep every night may help prevent the spread of these proteins, which can slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s altogether.

Stay Social

One of the easiest ways to help a loved one struggling with Alzheimer’s is to keep them socializing. You can encourage socialization by scheduling small get-togethers or parties with friends and loved ones or by making an effort to get them out of the house. Start a new hobby together, schedule weekly walks or consider signing them up for a class that interests them.

Eat Well

There’s a reason why Alzheimer’s is sometimes described as ‘the diabetes of the brain’. As such, it’s important to maintain a healthy diet to help protect the brain and slow down the progression of this disease. As a general rule of thumb, aim to manage weight, reduce sugar and refined carbs, eat a more Mediterranean-style diet, increase omega-3 fats, eat more fruits and vegetables and to stay well hydrated.

Regular Exercise

Similar to following a healthy diet, getting regular exercise is key for improving your brain health. New studies have even found a link between exercise and the possible reduction or delay in the development of Alzheimer’s disease, as it may encourage the development of new connections in the brain. Other studies found that it can reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by 50%. So, aim to get in a minimum of 20 minutes of exercise every day of the week, or at the very least, most of the days of the week. This can be something as simple as taking a stroll around the block or swimming at a local facility.

Keep Your Brain Sharp

Enjoying activities that work the brain is an excellent way to keep the brain sharp. There are a variety of things you can do – from the traditional crossword found in the local newspaper to games and applications available on a tablet. The mental stimulation of these types of activities is key for keeping the brain active and challenged. Studies even found that as few as 10 sessions of mental training can improve cognitive function in daily activities, with the benefits lasting up to 10 years. So, grab some activity books, try a new crossword puzzle, download Sudokus on the tablet or pick up a jigsaw puzzle to keep the brain moving daily.

Alzheimer’s disease is a serious brain disorder that shouldn’t be overlooked. But most importantly, it can be prevented and delayed with strategies that aim to improve your brain health as you age. Lastly, you can check out our recommendation – The Brain Booster program.

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