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Alzheimer’s and Dementia: The Basics

There’s a lot of confusion out there around what is Alzheimer’s and what is dementia. Is there any difference between the two? Is one worse than the other? People sometimes assume there is no difference, or they get the false impression that when dementia gets “really bad,” it becomes Alzheimer’s disease. That’s false, and very misleading. Dementia is a very general term, and is not a disease, in and of itself. It’s a syndrome, which simply means a collection of symptoms. In the case of dementia, the symptoms are evidence of a decline in mental functioning. Memory loss is usually the first thing we focus on when we start to list those symptoms, but it’s very important to recognize that dementia causes people to lose an important number of skills (language skills, motor skills, judgment, the ability to plan, to name a few), things that most people take for granted every day. As a result, people with dementia need a lot of help to manage their days.

There are many different diseases and conditions that can cause the symptoms of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is one of them. In fact it is the most common cause of dementia; experts say it is responsible for 50 – 80% of the dementia that we see.

Dementia is not considered to be a normal part of aging, even though the chances for developing it increase as we age. By the time we reach the age of 85, 50% of us have dementia. Experts recommend that exercise is the single best thing you can do for your brain. Other lifestyle choices that may help ward off dementia include a healthy diet, getting plenty of mental stimulation from purposeful, pleasurable activities, quality sleep, successfully managing stress, trying new things, and maintaining social connections and interactions.