“Is Alzheimer’s the same as dementia?” It’s a question that we often hear from caregivers who are trying to find the best care for an elderly parent suffering from memory decline. You want to make the best decisions for Mom or Dad, so it’s only natural that you would try to find out as much about his or her condition as possible. To help you make the right decisions, we’ve put together a list of a few of our most frequently asked questions about memory care.
Alzheimer’s and Dementia: The Same or Different?
Although Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, accounting for 60% – 80% of cases, there are numerous other forms of mental decline and memory loss that fall under the umbrella of dementia. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, dementia is characterized by a “general decline” in mental ability that becomes severe enough to interfere with normal life. Ongoing care for a person diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia may involve unique treatment that is only available in specialized assisted living communities.
Are There Any Early Warning Signs?
While no two people will experience dementia in the same way, there are some signs that often indicate the onset of Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.
1. Noticeable Cognitive Decline
It is entirely true that memory is affected by age, and many typical, short-term memory “malfunctions” are annoying, but not serious. “Senior Moments” are not, in themselves, a sign of early-stage Alzheimer’s. However, if you have noticed that an elderly loved one is consistently unable to find the right words in a conversation, confused about directions, or having problems with common reasoning skills and thought processes, it would be wise to schedule a professional exam.
A doctor specializing in dementia diagnosis and treatment may be able to offer suggestions for monitoring the onset and development of suspected Alzheimer’s. They may prescribe a medication that has shown promise for treatment of early symptoms.
There is increasing data to suggest that abnormal sleep patterns may signal the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s. The relationship between memory problems and poor sleep has long been recognized, but new evidence suggests that lack of sleep may be a causative factor rather than a result of the disease. Doctors now are more thorough about investigating sleep problems, and about treating such conditions as sleep apnea.
3. Other Pre-existing Conditions
There is some evidence that ties dementia and Alzheimer’s disease to physical ailments such as vision problems, oral health, and arthritis. Clinical trials by the National Institutes of Health are also ongoing to determine how cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, and diseases such as diabetes affect memory care and cognitive health. It is possible that new information on the interconnectedness of brain health and other health conditions may turn dementia into a treatable or even preventable condition.
Is There Anything That I Can Do?
Although its cause is still unexplained, there is new evidence that development of Alzheimer’s might be delayed if not totally prevented by proper sleep, proper nutrition, regular exercise, and other good habits.
- Both the brain and the body need the benefit of seven to eight hours of restful sleep in order to perform effectively, a fact that is as important to younger adults as it is for seniors.
- Healthy eating is a critical element of any good healthcare plan, and Alzheimer’s and dementia care is no different. Eating right can have an enormous impact on an older adult’s health.
- In addition to sleep and fuel, the brain needs exercise. Engaging in conversation, listening to music, playing word games, learning a new language, and exploring the internet can all help to keep the mind active and the brain healthy.
- Even less able-bodied older adults can get regular physical activity. In addition to low-impact exercise like tai chi or walking, older adults can pursue physical hobbies such as gardening or tend to routine chores like laundry or washing dishes to stay active.
- Social interaction is another vital component for overall health as a person ages.
If you want to make sure that Mom or Dad has the best quality of life, try to encourage these healthy habits.
What Do I Do When My Parent Has Been Diagnosed?
Today, many older adults with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia continue to live active and productive lives. But it is important to seek professional advice, keep abreast of new treatment options, and do some advanced planning. An early diagnosis will allow you to help Mom or another loved one with necessary future care arrangements. It may be that part-time assistance is appropriate, or a move to a memory care living situation might be the best decision for safety and continuing care.
No matter what your immediate needs, being armed with knowledge and viable options is the best course of action. Remember that.