Alzheimer’s and senile dementia: how to distinguish them?

Often there is a tendency to confuse terms that indicate damage related to mental state. But there are some distinctions.

Is it dementia or Alzhiemer’s disease? Often there is a tendency to confuse terms that indicate damage related to mental state. But there are some distinctions.

It is often discussed, but it is easy to get confused and use one term for the other. Dementia is caused by different causes and there are different types. Among these, Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form and follows an irreversible path that goes through several phases.

The generic term “dementia” does not indicate a specific disease, but rather a wide range of symptoms associated with the decline of memory or other intellectual abilities.

To be attributable to dementia, however, the symptoms must be severe enough to reduce a person’s ability to perform daily activities. In particular, the functions to keep an eye on are memory, communication and language, the ability to pay attention and concentrate, reasoning and visual perception.

People with dementia may have problems with short-term memory, for example: it can happen that they do not know where their bags or wallets are, forget to pay bills, plan and prepare meals.

In many forms of dementia, symptoms appear slowly, then gradually worsen.

What happens in the brain when dementia sets in?

Brain cells suffer damage that interferes with their ability to communicate with each other normally. This “short circuit” has important effects on the thinking, behaviour and feelings perceived by dementia sufferers.

The brain has many distinct regions, each of which is responsible for different functions (for example, memory, judgment, and movement). The type of brain dysfunction found in different forms of dementia therefore depends on the damaged area of the brain.

Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. It causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms typically develop slowly and worsen over time, becoming so severe that they interfere with daily activities.

Alzheimer’s is not a normal element of aging, but being over 65 is the biggest risk factor. And it is not just a pathology of old age: about 5% of people affected have had an early onset of the disease, that is, between 40 and 50 years or between 50 and 60 years.

At first, light memory loss occurs, then over the years sufferers lose the ability to complete a conversation or interact in their environment.

The most common early symptom of Alzheimer’s disease is difficulty remembering recently learned information; In fact, changes due to Alzheimer’s generally begin in the part of the brain that concerns learning.

According to the US Alzheimer’s Association, there are ten symptoms to watch out for:

Symptom Demonstration
Anterograde amnesia Forgetfulness and memory disorders especially for the most recent events
Apraxia Difficulty performing familiar tasks such as tying shoes or buttoning that are not due to physical disabilities
Agnosia Difficulty recognizing everyday objects and their functions
Anomie Difficulty in naming common things that are recognized
Spatial disorientation Confusing familiar places
Temporal disorientation Getting the month, season or year wrong
Acalculia Difficulties in performing relatively simple logical or mathematical operations which may involve, for example, having to count and recount Money
Losing items Tendency to continually lose things by forgetting them in the strangest places (keys in the refrigerator, linen in the kitchen)
Mood or personality changes Tendency to become confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful, anxious, upset
Apathy Loss of initiative and interest in oneself, others and the environment in general

Not only Alzheimer’s

The second most common type of dementia is vascular dementia, which occurs after a stroke. There are also other conditions that can result in symptoms of dementia. Some forms are reversible, such as those caused by thyroid problems, depression, alcohol abuse, vitamin deficiencies. In these cases, when the condition causing dementia is treated, neurological conditions may improve.

Differential diagnosis

There is no real test that allows to distinguish Alzheimer’s disease from other forms of dementia: in case of suspicion, however, it is possible to undertake a diagnostic path based initially on the exclusion of other diseases with very similar symptoms.

For this purpose, doctors must collect information on the patient’s history (medical history), behavior, perform an assessment of functional and cognitive abilities and prescribe laboratory tests and/or, if necessary, instrumental examinations (e.g. CT scan).

Based on the results obtained, the doctor may be able to recognize, for example, vascular dementia, or reach a diagnosis of possible or probable Alzheimer’s: the absolute certainty that it is this pathology can only come once the autopsy examination has been carried out after the patient’s death.

Joycelyn Elders is the author and creator of EmpowerEssence, a health and wellness blog. Elders is a respected public health advocate and pediatrician dedicated to promoting general health and well-being.

The blog covers a wide range of topics related to health and wellness, with articles organized into several categories.

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