If you have a parent, grandparent, or other older family member who is starting to show signs of physical and/or mental deterioration, the fear of Alzheimer’s may loom large. Maybe your loved one has already been diagnosed with the early stages of dementia and you do not know what to expect in the future. Although we often use the terms “dementia” and “Alzheimer’s” interchangeably, they are not the same thing. An Essex Junction elder law attorney at Unsworth LaPlante, PLLC explains dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Dementia is a broad term used to refer to a group of symptoms that may include impaired thinking and memory. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke defines dementia as a “word for a group of symptoms caused by disorders that affect the brain. It is not a specific disease. People with dementia may not be able to think well enough to do normal activities, such as getting dressed or eating. They may lose their ability to solve problems or control their emotions. Their personalities may change. They may become agitated or see things that are not there.”
Dementia is often associated with the natural cognitive decline that occurs with aging. While Alzheimer’s can lead to dementia, conditions other than Alzheimer’s can also be the root cause of dementia, such as Huntington’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Although the most well-known symptom associated with dementia is memory difficulty, there are other areas of cognitive functioning that can also be affected by dementia, including problem-solving, spatial skills, and language as well as attention, judgment, and organizational abilities.
Another characteristic of dementia that distinguishes it from Alzheimer’s is that some causes of dementia are reversible. Thyroid conditions or vitamin deficiencies, for example, can cause dementia; however, if they are identified and treated dementia associated with those conditions can be reversed. Alzheimer-related dementia, however, cannot be reversed. Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s accounts for about three out of every four cases of dementia.
While it may sound like a high school logic problem, the best way to understand the relationship between Alzheimer’s and dementia is to remember that Alzheimer’s causes dementia but not all dementia is caused by Alzheimer’s. Put another way, you can have dementia without having Alzheimer’s, but you cannot have Alzheimer’s without dementia.
Despite common misperceptions, Alzheimer’s disease is not a new phenomenon. On the contrary, the disease was first identified over 100 years ago in 1906. At that time, a physician by the name of Dr. Alois Alzheimer discovered changes in the brain tissue of a woman who died from an unidentified mental illness. Prior to her death, the woman reportedly suffered from memory loss, language problems, and unpredictable behavior. After her death, an examination of her brain identified numerous abnormal clumps of protein plaques and tangled fibers.
Today, Alzheimer’s disease is referred to as a specific and progressive brain disease that destroys brain cells which in turn impairs memory, thinking, and behavior. The symptoms of Alzheimer’s will typically increase in severity over time and begin to affect employment, hobbies, and social life, eventually resulting in dementia. Alzheimer’s causes a gradual decline in cognitive abilities over a period of several years and is ultimately a fatal disease.
Although there is a form of Alzheimer’s known as “early onset Alzheimer’s,” most sufferers do not begin to experience symptoms until they are retirement age. Alzheimer’s symptoms include getting lost, asking repetitive questions, having trouble handling money and paying bills, having poor decision-making skills, frequently misplacing items, and undergoing personality changes. Completing daily tasks, such as bathing or dressing may take longer than normal as well. In the later stages of the disease, Alzheimer’s may cause one to lose the ability to communicate as well as to recognize oneself or loved ones.
Contact an Essex Junction Elder Law Attorney
For more information, please attend one of our upcoming FREE webinars. If you have questions or concerns about elder law, contact an experienced Essex Junction elder law attorney at Unsworth LaPlante, PLLC by calling 802-879-7133 to schedule your appointment today.