Alzheimer’s and Dementia: Understanding the Basics

seniors sitting on wicker benchToday, Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, or “loss of intellectual function,” among people aged 65 and over. Typically, when we hear the words “dementia” and “memory loss,” Alzheimer’s disease comes to mind. However, dementia is actually the term for a collection of symptoms including memory loss, personality change and impaired intellectual functions resulting from disease or trauma to the brain.

The Difference Between Alzheimer’s and Dementia

While Alzheimer’s disease is the leading underlying cause of most dementia cases, there are other conditions that can also cause dementia. According to the Alzheimer’s Association article, “What is Dementia?” dementia is not actually a specific disease. It’s an overall term that describes a wide range of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person’s ability to perform everyday activities. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for about 60 to 80 percent of cases.

Vascular dementia, which occurs after a stroke, is the second most common dementia type. There are many other conditions that can cause symptoms of dementia, including some that are reversible, such as thyroid problems and vitamin deficiencies. These changes are not part of normal aging and are severe enough to affect daily living, independence and relationships.

Alzheimer’s and Dementia Basics

The Alzheimer’s Association also provides useful details on the basics of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia as well as related links that can be helpful to caregivers and family members. For example:

  • Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia – Dementia is a general term for memory loss and other intellectual abilities serious enough to interfere with daily life. It is estimated that as many as 5.1 million Americans may currently have Alzheimer ’s disease, which accounts for up to 80 percent of all dementia cases. Learn more: What We Know Today and Understanding Dementia.
  • Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging – While the greatest known risk factor is increasing age, and the majority of people with Alzheimer’s are 65 and older, Alzheimer’s is not just a disease of “old age.” Up to five percent of people with the disease have “early onset” Alzheimer’s, which often appears when someone is in their 40s or 50s. Learn more: Early Onset Alzheimer’s and Risk Factors.
  • Alzheimer’s worsens over time – As a progressive disease, Alzheimer’s symptoms gradually worsen over a number of years. In its early stages, memory loss is mild, but with late-stage Alzheimer’s, individuals lose the ability to carry on a conversation and respond to their environment. Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, and those with Alzheimer’s live an average of eight years after their symptoms become noticeable to others. However, survival can range from four to 20 years, depending on age and other health conditions. Learn more: 10 Warning Signs and Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease.
  • Alzheimer’s has no current cure, but treatments for symptoms are available and research continues – Although current medical treatments cannot stop Alzheimer’s from progressing, they can temporarily slow the worsening of dementia symptoms and improve quality of life for those with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers. Today, there is a worldwide effort underway to find better ways to treat the disease, delay its onset and even prevent it from developing. Learn more: Standard Treatments, Treatment Horizon, Prevention and Clinical Trials.

Help Is Available Now for Caregivers

Today, there is a variety of supportive resources for caregivers including: Alzheimer’s Association services; assistance with daily living needs and housework; technological support for care monitoring, information sharing and organizing caregiver duties and physical, emotional and informational support provided by health professionals and those who have experienced similar situations. Additionally, progressive memory care providers such as North Woods Village at Edison Lakes offer a variety of educational programs, support and special events designed to help family caregivers.

For caregivers who recognize that the needs of their loved one are beyond what they can safely and effectively provide in the home environment, leading, residential memory care assisted living communities (MCALs), such as North Woods Village at Edison Lakes and its “New Directions” SM  program in Mishawaka, IN, provide the full continuum of services that have been shown to improve health and well-being, support brain health and delay the progression of memory loss from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

At North Woods Village at Edison Lakes, we believe senior adults thrive in an environment that offers an active, vibrant lifestyle with a variety of activities that engage the mind, body and spirit. Our “New Directions” SM  provides a safe, professional environment and proven, best-practice programs and services specifically designed to address the total physical, emotional and social needs of individuals with Alzheimer’s, dementia or other serious form of memory impairment.
For more information and helpful resources, contact us today!