Seniors deal with changes in their body that sometimes occur at a rapid pace. One of the scariest problems pertains to memory loss. Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are the two main terms we use to diagnose severe memory loss. Both terms represent distinct cognitive conditions, but they don’t have the same meaning.

Dementia is a broader term and can include Alzheimer’s, which is the most common form of the disease. Dementia can also include other conditions such as Lewy Body Disease and vascular dementia. The symptoms of dementia include gradual cognitive decline and difficulty with daily functions and emotion health. Old age can bring on memory loss, but severe or rapid memory loss is a sign of something more serious. We gathered more information to describe dementia and care before and after diagnosis.


How is dementia or Alzheimer’s different from regular memory loss?

Memory loss with age is common, mostly with seniors. With dementia, you’ll see a pattern of short-term memory loss first, and long-term memory loss will come later. Seniors may forget conversations that just took place, or how long it’s been since their last meal. Some other common symptoms in early stages of dementia include unprovoked confusion, difficulty with common words or terms, trouble remembering new people, dramatic changes in mood, and difficulties with daily tasks. The changes can cause problems with daily life, especially when seniors live independently.


What causes dementia?

Researchers have discovered that protein build-up in the neural pathways of the brain preventing accurate memory recall. Unfortunately, researchers have not been able to pinpointed the specific causes of protein buildup in the brain. Family history of dementia can double the risk of developing the disease. Huntington’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Pick’s disease, and progressive supranuclear palsy are all diseases that increase the risk of severe memory loss later in life. Many different types of factors that affect brain functionality such as brain injury, substance abuse, tumors, changes in hormones, vitamin deficiency, and incorrect medication can lead to development of dementia or Alzheimer’s as well.


How common are these conditions?

Nearly everyone will develop memory loss at some point in their life as they age, but not everyone will develop dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia and affects more than five million Americans and 47 million worldwide. Only 10 percent of people living with the disease are under 65, so age is an important factor. Research indicates that someone in America develops dementia every 66 seconds, these number reflect the notion that dementia cases are increasing each year.


Do these conditions affect memory only?

 Cognitive decline not only affects memory; it affects other important functions such as judgements, language, behavior, and thinking as well. Eventually, Alzheimer’s will take over the mind and affect bodily function, causing harm to the patient. Forgetfulness is often the most common symptom. Cognitive and emotional behaviors are affected and lead to difficulty with planning, judgement, and problem-solving. Panic is a common emotion that erupts from small problems and can turn to big problems. In later stages, caregivers have reported seeing drastic mood swings and unprovoked anxiety or anger, depression, and belligerence. If you notice multiple symptoms listed above, consult a doctor as soon as possible.


Is there a test for Alzheimer’s or dementia?

Currently, there isn’t a test available that will specifically detect and/or diagnose dementia. There are tests doctors use to determine if any physical conditions are causing memory loss symptoms. Possible tests include: B12 level, toxicology screen, blood gas analysis and chemistry, head CT, MRI of the head, thyroid function tests, and neurological exams. These tests are coupled up with mental status exams in which physicians uses a series of questions to test short and long-term memory function.


How quickly do the symptoms progress?

Sadly, reversing or halting progression of the disease is not possible. It can be slowed, however, through proper medication and a number of therapies that delay symptoms and improve well-being. Dementia is a disease that affects patients uniquely so every case is different. Not all will develop personality and behavioral changes. Memory loss declines at different speeds and cognitive function is lost at different stages. Meditation, nutritional, exercise, and other forms of therapy will help slow the process.


What are my treatment options?

Memory care facilities will be the best residential care option for families looking to seek professional help. They specialize in treating cognitive decline using therapies designed specifically for memory loss patients. Memory care communities offer quality care and pay additional attention to safety with special consideration for symptoms of dementia (wandering, confusion, etc.) There are programs for in-home care as well. There is no way to prevent or stop the disease, but there are options to help comfort the patient.



The information provided on this site is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material found on this website is intended to promote and encourage consumer understanding and should not be considered alternative or supplementary medical advice. If you have any concerns regarding your health or physical condition, seek the advice of a licensed qualified healthcare provider. Be sure to discuss any changes or concerns with your doctor before beginning a new healthcare regimen, undergoing any procedures, or changing current healthcare plans. Seniors and Health does not claim medical representation and assumes no responsibility in the accuracy of the information available on this website.

To learn about other common health concerns among senior, check out our Health and Conditions page; we also provide information on senior care options on our Assisted Living page.

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About the Author: Victoria K. Stickley is a copywriter, editor, and senior content manager based in the Dallas area. Her graduate education in counseling and research has helped immensely in her writing as well as the care she provides for her grandparents. She currently provides support and resources to senior care websites as she learns and experiences senior care first-hand.