Do you know the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s?

One leads to the other, and understanding both is crucial to helping those coping with them

“October is a symphony of permanence and change.”

Bonaro W. Overstreet

Recently I’ve been thinking about the changes in our lives, in the seasons, in our lifestyles, in our environment, in our health; thinking about aging, hearing loss, memory loss, and so on, in seniors especially. I realized that although I’ve heard the terms dementia and Alzheimer’s, I didn’t really know their definitions, so I looked it up online. Are you curious too?

The Alzheimer’s Association had this to say under the heading “Dementia vs. Alzheimer’s Disease : What is the Difference?”

“Dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia, accounting for 60–80 per cent of dementia cases. Alzheimer’s is a specific disease. Dementia is not.

“Dementia describes a group of symptoms associated with a decline in memory, reasoning, or other thinking skills. Many different types of dementia exist and many conditions cause it. Mixed dementia is a condition in which brain changes of more than one type of disease occur at the same time. Dementia is not a normal part of aging. It is caused by damage to brain cells that affects their ability to communicate, which can affect thinking, behaviour, and feelings.

“Alzheimer’s is a degenerative brain disease that is caused by complex brain changes following cell damage. It leads to dementia symptoms that gradually worsen over time. The most common early symptom of Alzheimer’s is trouble remembering new information because the disease typically impacts the part of the brain associated with learning first. As Alzheimer’s advances, symptoms get more severe and include disorientation, confusion, and behaviour changes. Eventually, speaking, swallowing, and walking become difficult. There is no way to prevent, cure, or even slow Alzheimer’s down. Though the greatest known risk factor for Alzheimer’s is increasing age, the disease is not a normal part of aging.”

It was revealing to me that one causes the other. Alzheimer’s is the disease that leads to dementia.

I have a calendar with the most thought-provoking quotations from people living with dementia and also from their caregivers, who suggest that those living with the disease make connection with a support group that will help them feel less alone in dealing with their situation. Volunteering with an Alzheimer’s support group in the community can change perceptions and develop an awareness of the ever increasing need for care for this disease.

Caregivers stress that people with Alzheimer’s and dementia must be treated with respect and understanding and patience. They still have feelings. Smiles and hugs, laughter and love are of prime importance. Communication takes on a whole new meaning.

People living with dementia want what everybody else wants: a long life well-lived. Dementia is not the end of their life. It is the beginning of a change in the way they cope with the world and their life in it. There’s no reason to be ashamed about having dementia. By being open and honest about it they may create an awareness in others who don’t understand dementia. Maybe they’ll be seen as just people who need a little help sometimes.

Dementia has no boundaries. It can impact any person, culture, or any age at any time, and it will impact your entire family and your friends.

Speaking about communication, I’ll share this with you. What must surely be one of the most frustrating conversations in history was reported in Theatre Arts magazine. A subscriber, desiring to report on a particular upcoming event in his community, dialed “Information” to get the magazine’s telephone number.

The operator drawled, “Sorry, but there is nobody listed by the name of ‘Theodore Arts’.”

The subscriber insisted “It’s not a person; it’s a publication. I want Theatre Arts.”

The operator responded, this time a little louder. “I told you, we have no listing for Theodore Arts in this city. Perhaps he lives in another city.”

By now the subscriber was thoroughly peeved. “Confound it, the word is theatre: T-H-E-A-T-R-E!”

The operator came back with certainty in her voice. “That is not the way to spell Theodore.”

Sometimes there’s just no communicating with someone who refuses to hear you, who seems unwilling to understand your point of view, or who simply “doesn’t get” what you are trying to say.

By now you will have noticed the activity on the former school site. At long last it appears the supportive housing/care facility will be a reality. Hooray!

No activities and no meetings for seniors. Stay well and safe.

Happy Birthday greetings to Christine Stella (Oct. 13), Terry Tucker (Oct. 23), and Katherine Turmel (Oct. 29).

“The years ahead are ours to win and cherish. We cannot let anything, least of all our age, stand in our way.”

Tina Sloane

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