“What’s the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s?” someone asked me recently. An interesting question as very often the two words are used interchangeably. The difference is that dementia is a set of symptoms most often caused by Alzheimer’s disease. Many of us are familiar with the symptoms of Alzheimer’s these days. People keep asking the same question or repeating the same old stories and they struggle to remember what they have just done. This is because the hippocampus, that part of the brain concerned with the formation of new memories, is slowly being destroyed as plaques and tangles of abnormal protein accumulate in and around the brain cells and kill them.
As the damage becomes more widespread the plaques and tangles spread to other areas of the brain, killing brain cells and causing further symptoms: It becomes harder to find the right word or remember someone’s name; it is difficult to make plans or grasp new ideas and there is a loss of insight which means that people with Alzheimer’s often misinterpret what other people are doing and find it impossible to understand their motives.
All this is extremely stressful for the person with dementia and they need our understanding. It’s also pretty worrying for the rest of us when we can’t remember where we put our keys or what we did yesterday. The thing to remember is that it’s normal to forget. We all do it and the older we get the more likely it is but that does not mean we have dementia. It’s not the occasional, inconvenient memory lapse that matters; it’s the persistent forgetting that compromises a person’s independence. Thankfully, most of us will not develop dementia.
For more information about The Wednesday (Memory) Group, contact Jan on 01777 709974.