Alzheimers and Dementia

Is it kleenex or tissue? Over the years, people have used either word to describe a soft material that is used primarily when someone sneezes. However only one is the material while the other is the brand. And so it is with Dementia and Alzheimers. Two words interchanged to mean the loss of memory and function usually occurring in old age. Although it is correct that both involve memory loss usually in old age, they are not interchangeable. What is the difference between Alzheimer’s and Dementia? According to the author, Brian Draper, in his book, “Dealing with Dementia: A Guide to Alzheimer’s Disease and other Dementias,” dementia is a term used medically to describe a syndrome (set of symptoms) that is caused by many different diseases. This syndrome can include Alzheimer’s’,  vascular dementia and dementia with Lewy bodies. Another way to describe it is by using the term cancer to describe a malignant tumor, but it is not specific to any one disease. Therefore, when you look at Alzheimer’s and dementia there really is no difference as Alzheimer’s’ is one of the many different forms of dementia.

The term dementia comes from the Latin meaning, “out of the mind.” It is a progressive deterioration of intellectual faculties resulting in apathy, confusion, stupor and finally death. Dementia is an irreversible mental deterioration that is caused by a deterioration of brain tissue ( although some can be caused by circulatory deterioration). Major characteristics include short and long term memory loss, impaired judgment, and disrupted interpersonal relationships and occurs in later life usually after 65. Alzheimer’s, on the other hand, can occur much earlier in life and usually progressives much more quickly. Other diseases that can cause dementia include Parkinson’s Disease and Huntington’s Disease.  As the Director of Nursing at Infinity Healthcare Services, a home care company, I have had the opportunity to plan the care for many clients with Dementia and Alzheimers’ Disease. When caring for clients with Dementia or Alzheimers’ Disease it is important to be educated on the course of the illness. We want our clients to be as comfortable, happy and safe as possible and realize that most clients have both good days and bad days. It is also important that caregivers are realistic about their clients as it is a progressive and irreversible disease.

Although memory loss is one of the classic symptoms of dementia, some types of dementia manifest themselves as personality changes rather than memory loss. It all depends on the area of the brain affected. As the disease progresses, it is important that the caregiver understands that the changes in his/her client are normal for disease progression and provide the client with compassion and understanding.  Whether it is Alzheimer’s’ or Dementia, the client with this progressive disease deserves our most compassionate care. In closing, I am reminded of a poem about Dementia by Owen Darnell called “Do Not Ask Me To Remember.” I want to always remember that each individual client, no matter what their diagnosis,  must be treated with the utmost care, compassion, and dignity.

Linda McAndrew BSN

Director of Nursing

Infinity Healthcare Services, LLC