Many people use “dementia” and “Alzheimer’s disease” interchangeably as though they are one and the same. Dementia is not a disease in itself, it is a combination of symptoms, which may accompany a disease.  Those symptoms are; the ability to reason, think, remember and often a change in behavior. There are many diseases that can cause dementia. Diseases such as Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, Pick’s, stroke, Creutzfeld-Jakob, as well as many physical conditions result in dementia.

Symptoms of dementia:

The ability to reason. Grace was in her late 70’s, living alone and coping just fine. That is until her local  grocery store decided to remodel. They relocated all of their products, moving them about all over the store. While Grace was in a routine, she had been able to locate all of her frequently purchased items, and she functioned well.

But this drastic change caused Grace to walk the store for hours a day, not buying anything. Grace was no longer able to reason and figure out for herself where new locations would be, nor was she able to ask for assistance. Very soon her daughter noticed that Grace was losing weight, and taking a closer look at her mother’s life, found out about the store re-model and her mother’s problem with reasoning.

The ability to think. In the early stages the person may have times when he appears confused, perplexed or is struggling to organize his thoughts. He may appear as if in a dream world and fail to respond to questions. He may report strange thoughts or be unable to think of the date or time.  He may be having trouble participating in small talk with friends or participate in activities.

The ability to remember. In normal aging memory loss, the elderly person has been distracted and failed to form a memory. As in those infamous lost keys, cell phone, pen, all of those things that everyone misplaces daily. As people age they begin to have distraction problems. If two older people  walk into a department store and they are talking, they may be distracted. When they leave they might not remember where they parked the car, because they never laid down that memory, due to distraction.

In Alzheimer’s disease this memory loss is not particularly worrisome for the elder. The elder with normal memory loss will be concerned about it, and just take a little longer to access memories. If given a few clues or reminders they will be able to retrieve those memories. For the person with Alzheimer’s disease the memory is just gone.

The public is more aware of Alzheimer’s disease because it is the most common cause of dementia. While many other diseases and conditions cause dementia, the most often source is Alzheimer’s disease.

Virginia Garberding R.N.

Certified in Gerontology and Restorative Nursing