Alzheimer’s or Dementia?

November 04 2021

What is dementia?

Dementia is an umbrella term for a set of symptoms that affect the brain. There are many different types of dementia.

What is the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia?

Dementia is a very general and broad umbrella term. Alzheimer's disease is a type of dementia. There are over one hundred types of dementia. Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia and accounts for about 70 percent of all the dementia cases out there.

How many people live with dementia?

In Canada, there are over 740,000 Canadians living with Alzheimer's or another dementia. Worldwide, at least 44 million people are living with dementia. In Nova Scotia, more than 17,000 people have been diagnosed with dementia and that number is expected to double within the next 10-20 years.

If you’re not affected by dementia right now, there’s a high likelihood that you will be in the future.

What are some of the warning signs of dementia that people should look for when it comes to determining if a loved one or a family member might be struggling with dementia?

Dementia is not just memory loss. There are ten warning signs that you should be aware of. One of those signs may be problems with language. There may be a change in your ability to do familiar tasks that you've done all your life.  There may be impaired judgment. A person’s executive function may not be the same, for example, you might not be able to dial numbers on a phone. There may be changes in your behavior and personality. There are a multitude of things to look for. It's not just memory loss.

Is dementia a normal part of aging?

No. Dementia is not a normal part of aging.

The ability of our brain to process information begins to slow down after the age of twenty-five. By the time you’re seventy-five, you’ll be slower to process things and make decisions. You may not be able to recall the name of someone you met six months ago. That’s okay and it’s part of normal aging.

Is dementia hereditary? What causes dementia?

There are many factors that can contribute to a person developing dementia. About 5% of all cases of dementia are called familial where there’s a genetic disposition that runs in the family. The biggest risk factor for developing dementia is not genetics but getting older. Old age is the greatest non-modifiable risk factor that is beyond your control. There are, however, some risk factors that you can control related to your lifestyle that can help decrease your risk. For example, smoking increases your risk of dementia by 45%.  Being active and exercising can be very beneficial. A healthy diet is important. It’s important to control diabetes and cardiovascular related risk factors such as high blood pressure and your cholesterol level. What’s good for your heart is also good for your brain.

How is dementia diagnosed?

A diagnosis of dementia can be difficult to get. There's no one single test that a doctor can do to diagnose dementia. It's a multitude of tests and a process of elimination. You should begin by going to see your family doctor. He or she will take your medical history, they may order a C.T. scan or PET scan, request blood work, and will talk with family members to get your point of view on changes you’ve observed. They may also send you to a specialist depending on the exact symptoms. It’s complex and can take some time to arrive at a diagnosis of dementia.

What role can home care play in helping family members whose loved ones are living with Alzheimer's or dementia?

At Always Home Homecare, we specialize in dementia care. We have Certified Dementia Trainers and Coaches and all our caregivers are trained in Teepa Snow's Positive Approach to Care hands-on skills and structured techniques. We’re dedicated to helping our clients lead respectful, independent lifestyles in the comfort and safety of their home. We beleive that people living with dementia are doing the best they can and we strive to appreciate the unique and complex needs of each individual.


Dementia is described as an umbrella term. What does that mean and what falls under the umbrella?

Dementia is a general term. It’s a syndrome and not an actual diagnosis. Various types of dementia fall under the umbrella with Alzheimer’s disease being the most common one. Other types include vascular dementia and Lewy Body dementia. There’s over 100 different types of dementia.

It’s important to understand the type of dementia that a person has in order to provide the best care possible.


What else can you tell us about dementia to help us better understand the condition?

Teepa Snow describes dementia with what she calls the four truths about dementia:

  • It’s chronic
  • It’s terminal
  • It’s progressive
  • At least two parts of the brain are affected.


When you say it’s progressive, can you tell us a little more about this?

We hear about the stages being early, middle and late.Teepa Snow's staging system is called the GEMS. There are six GEMS (Sapphire, Diamond, Emerald, Amber, Ruby and Pearl). It’s based on the belief that every person is precious and unique and recognizes the shifts in the skills and abilities in those living with Dementia.

Teepa Snow says:

"Every person can shine in the right setting with the right care."

A person’s characteristics can help us determine which GEM state they are in and then we can best match our care to that person. It’s a much more loving way to express where a person is in their journey of living with dementia. It’s also easier for family to accept the changes and for caregivers to understand the progression.


It’s commonly said that people don’t die from dementia, but you said it is terminal?

Yes, it’s a myth that people don’t die from Alzheimer’s. In fact, it is a terminal condition because it’s neurodegenerative. If a person lives long enough with dementia, it may be the cause of death if they don’t die from something else like pneumonia first.


It’s chronic. There’s no cure for dementia correct?

That’s correct. Unfortunately, today there is no cure. There are a few medications approved for use with Alzheimer’s disease but there haven’t been any new medications for over a decade. The medications don’t work with everyone. You’d have to ask your doctor if it’s appropriate for you. If you are prescribed a medication, it may help with symptoms. There isn’t anything that can halt the progression of the disease.


Two parts of the brain are affected. Can you tell us more about that?

Yes, one part of the brain that’s affected dramatically and early in the course of the disease is the occipital region of the brain where vision is processed. The frontotemporal lobe is another part that is affected by many types of dementia. It’s the part of the brain that contributes to a person’s personality and their ability to make sound decisions, understand logic and see another person’s point of view.


Do only old people get dementia?

No, aging is the greatest risk factor but a small percentage of people under the age of 65 will develop dementia.


There’s another myth out there that nothing can be done to help a person with dementia but that’s probably not true?

Although there’s no cure, a lot can be done to help a person with dementia live well for as long as possible and enjoy a high quality of life.

Teepa says dementia can be treated with compassion, understanding , patience, education, awareness, and skills.

The skills that our caregivers are trained in such as Hand-under-Hand and Positive Physical Approach make a huge difference in helping a person to make the most of their remaining abilities.


If you’re concerned about your memory, what should you do?

A person or their family should seek help sooner rather than later. There are benefits to getting an early diagnosis if in fact you do have dementia.


Where can people go for help?

Teepa Snow website is a great place to start. Your provincial Alzheimer's society would also be a great resource to connect with.  


Call us anytime to discuss Dementia and your loved one.

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