- Dementia and Alzheimer’s Symptoms
Both dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are conditions in which there is a progressive decline in mental capacity. Symptoms appear slowly and gradually and worsen over time.
- Dementia is a term used to describe a decline in mental abilities, such as memory loss and difficulty thinking, that can interfere with a person’s ability to carry out daily activities. It is not a specific disease in itself.
- Alzheimer's disease is a brain disorder that develops over time and is characterized by problems with memory, thinking, and behavior. It is the most common cause of dementia.
What Are Symptoms of Dementia and Alzheimer’s?
Dementia symptoms can be similar to those of Alzheimer’s since Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia. In order to be considered dementia, the Alzheimer’s Association states at least two of the following core mental functions must be significantly impaired:
- Communication and language
- Ability to focus and pay attention
- Reasoning and judgment
- Visual perception
Memory loss is the most common early symptom of Alzheimer’s disease. As the condition progresses, more severe symptoms develop, such as:
- Severe memory loss
- Mood changes
- Behavior changes
- Difficulty speaking, swallowing, and walking (in the later stages)
What Causes Dementia and Alzheimer’s?
Both dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are caused by damage to brain cells and it is likely that a combination of factors that affect the brain lead to the development of the condition.
Risk factors for developing dementia and Alzheimer’s include:
- Age: most people with Alzheimer’s disease are over 65, and about one-third of adults over age 85 have the disease
- Lifestyle: includes diet, physical activity, and social relationships
- Environment: exposure to pesticides and air pollution
- Other risk factors for developing Alzheimer’s disease include Down syndrome, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes
How Are Dementia and Alzheimer’s Diagnosed?
Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are diagnosed with a combination of a patient’s medical history, mental status tests, physical and neurological exams, diagnostic tests, and brain imaging.
Tests used to diagnose dementia and Alzheimer’s disease include:
- Neurological exam
- Mental cognitive status testing to evaluate memory, thinking, and simple problem-solving abilities
- Mini-Mental State Exam (MMSE)
- Mini-Cog test
- Computerized cognitive testing
- Cantab Mobile
- Automated Neuropsychological Assessment Metrics (ANAM)
- Depression screen and mood assessment
- Brain imaging
What Is the Treatment for Dementia and Alzheimer’s?
There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, and the goal of treatments is to slow disease progression and help treat symptoms.
Medications used to treat Alzheimer’s disease include:
- Drugs that may help slow disease progression
- Aducanumab (Aduhelm)
- Drugs that treat symptoms
- Cognitive symptoms (memory and thinking)
- Non-cognitive symptoms (behavioral and psychological symptoms)
- Sleep disturbances
- Suvorexant (Belsomra)
- Antidepressants for depression and irritability
- Anxiolytics for anxiety, restlessness, verbally disruptive behavior, and resistance
- Antipsychotic medications for hallucinations, delusions, aggression, agitation, hostility, and uncooperativeness
- Sleep disturbances
Non-medical treatments for behavior include:
- Identifying triggers for behaviors to determine the best approach to deal with it
- Modifying the environment to remove or reduce challenges and obstacles to comfort, security, and peace of mind
- Monitoring personal comfort
- Creating a calm environment
- Allowing adequate rest