Alzheimer’s, Dementia, and Aging: The Important Differences and Similarities
As you age, your body changes, your memory lapses and everything slows down. Your intelligence should remain stable, even though we are not as mentally flexible and certainly not as physically able as you were in your 20s and 30s. There are times when it will take more time to process information. You forget things and your memory of events changes. As you age, you will have difficulty remembering the names of places, people, and things.
Many confuse this normal part of aging with common neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's or dementia. But, some of the characteristics of aging fall in line with symptoms of Alzheimer's and dementia. What separates Alzheimer's and dementia is that both of these diseases cause progressive degeneration. These diseases are not stoppable, but there are interventions that can give you more time.
Here are the important differences that set these conditions apart from one another, and what you should know if you are at risk.
Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)
MCI is a condition where you have problems with core brain function or memory. To be diagnosed with MCI, the condition must be severe enough to be noticeable by friends and family. MCI might even show up on mental function tests. Yet, your everyday life is still okay, and you can function just fine.
Unfortunately, you do have an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease in the very near future if you have MCI. On the bright side, there are those with MCI who never get dementia or Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s is an neurodegenerative disease that is slow and progressive. It destroys the nerve cells in your brain. Symptoms get worse over time as more and more brain cells are destroyed. You can have symptoms of Alzheimer’s as early as your 30s, but the disease is more pronounced in those over 65.
Those who have Alzheimer disease are often so forgetful that it affects their social life, hobbies, and employment. Mood changes, the inability to multi-task, repeating things, confusion or misplacing things are just a few of Alzheimer’s symptoms. You may become lost or disoriented in familiar places, and you will often forget faces and names.
Currently, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s Disease. There are treatments to help slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s, but you do need to catch Alzheimer’s early in its stages to take advantage of most of these treatments.
Surprising causes of Alzheimer’s disease
Aging is not the only cause of Alzheimer's disease. Other causes of Alzheimer's include:
- Low oxygen in the blood from a stroke, heart attack, chronic disease, or surgical complications. Heart disease, asthma, COPD are causes of damage to brain tissues and these cause risks for dementia.
- Meningitis, encephalitis, untreated syphilis, and Lyme disease can cause dementia.
- Metastases or brain tumors from cancers can cause Alzheimer’s and dementia.
- Deficiency of Thiamine or vitamin B1, B6 or 12 and severe dehydration are causes of dementia.
- Acute traumatic injuries to the brain like subdural hematomas can put you at risk for dementia.
- Side effects from some medications.
- Electrolyte abnormalities.
- Lead, heavy metals, recreational drugs, alcohol, dangerous substances or other poisonous substances can cause dementia.