Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia – What is the difference? My experience with dementia & how I am learning to accept and cope

I have not been very motivated this week and have been trying to get too many things accomplished in a short amount of time.  Does this sound familiar to you?  I’m tired and the day goes by so fast that by the time dinner is over and the dishes are washed or in the dishwasher, I am done for the day. Resonating now?

I schedule just about everything in my life – cleaning, volunteering, laundry, washing my hair (yep, I schedule that, too), etc.  You name it, I schedule it and it is in my planner.  Since I have started this blog, I have been scheduling time during the week to prepare and write posts as well.  But, for the past week or so, I seem to be falling further and further behind on my to-do-list.  And, writing tutorials and posts takes a lot more time than I planned.  I do have a habit of putting too much pressure on myself and then get to a point where I cannot take any more.  I got to that point today.  Have you been there, too?  I know you have.

However, this blog is important to me and I want to consistently post relevant content.  I was planning to do an “I tried this” post about some recent projects I have completed from pins on Pinterest and posts on Facebook.  But, I am not ready to post that content today.  So, instead of pushing myself further than is necessary, I am going to just write about something meaningful to me. And I hope you may gain some insight as well.

On Tuesday mornings, I visit my grandmother at her assisted living facility.  About 5 years ago, after my grandfather died and my grandmother’s memory deficiencies made it unsafe for her to live alone, my dad and I moved her to the Memory Care Unit at the assisted living facility where she lives today.  We are very lucky, because she has enough money to live in one of the best facilities in the area with a wonderful staff.  It is a difficult situation enough without worrying about her being in a sub-par facility.

With the lack of motivation and energy I have been suffering lately, today’s visit did me in. Although today’s visit was a good one, whether it is good or bad it just makes me sad and drains all of my emotional energy.  I was just spent.  I have also learned in the last few years dealing with my grandmother’s dementia and trying to take care of a family while in the throes of a deep depression – you need to take care of yourself.  If you do not take care of yourself first (which I always thought of as selfish), you are no good to anyone else.  So, when I came home today, I took care of myself.   I curled up on the couch, watched a recording on my DVR and “rested” for the afternoon.

My grandmother is 95 years old and suffers from dementia.  Usually when I talk about my grandmother I just say that she has Alzheimer’s because most people do not understand what dementia is.  I have found some information from the Mayo Clinic’s Alzheimer’s Blog that may be helpful to you.

In the post Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia are Different on the Mayo Clinic’s Alzheimer’s Blog, Angela Lunde states, “The term dementia refers to a set of symptoms, not the disease itself.”  In another blog post, Alzheimer’s, Dementia and MCI overlap, But have Different Meanings, Angela writes, “Memory loss generally occurs in dementia, but memory loss alone doesn’t mean dementia. Dementia implies there are problems with other brain functions as well, and that more than one dementia symptom is present.

Symptoms of dementia can include:

  • Memory loss
  • Language problems
  • Inability to learn or remember new information
  • Difficulty with planning and organizing
  • Difficulty with coordination and motor functions
  • Personality changes
  • Inability to reason
  • Changes in behavior
  • Apathy or loss of interest in activities
  • Paranoia”

In addition, she writes “Alzheimer’s causes brain changes that gradually get worse. Two abnormal structures called plaques and tangles are prime suspects in damaging and killing nerve cells, causing a steady decline in memory and mental function.”

Maybe this information helps you understand the differences.  Really, I just don’t get it.  I have done research on-and-off over the last few years and have decided that the definition does not really matter.  My grandmother has severe memory deficiencies that significantly impair her life – who cares what the specific diagnosis is?

However, in the article Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia are Different, Angela also writes, “You may have heard the saying, “When you’ve met one person with Alzheimer’s, you’ve met one person with Alzheimer’s disease.” In other words, no two persons are similar in how the disease impacts them. This holds true for caregivers as well. If you have seen how Alzheimer’s disease (or related dementia) impacts one caregiver, you have seen how it impacts one caregiver.” This is so true and, to me, is more important than the definitions.   Due to the nature of the disease, no two patients are alike and, therefore, no two caregivers are alike.  However different each person’s experience, all patients and caregivers ride an emotional roller coaster.

One week I will visit and she is in a good mood and the next she has no idea who I am and yells at me to “get out.”  I have learned to deal with these mood swings and am usually ok after a bad visit.  However, for the most part, we have good visits.  She really does not know that I am her granddaughter, but she does know that I am someone who is important to her – not just one of her regular caregivers (not that they are not hugely important as well).  She may not know that I am her granddaughter and I often have to remind her that I am her granddaughter, Nickie (my childhood nickname that I hate), but she usually treats me with the same sentiment that she would if she did know. Although she does not remember me or my husband and kids, I still tell her funny stories about the kids, how they are doing in school, show her pictures of Gunner and videos of Skater Boy riding his skateboard.  I treat her the same now as I always have.

Since my grandmother has a ton of old photographs (I mean some are from the turn-of the-century), we often look at pictures when I visit.  I usually pick about 5-10 and we look at the same pictures over and over for an hour.  Over the past few years, I have come to know many of the faces that I did not know before and am now able to tell her who is in each of the pictures.  When she asks me, “How do you know?” I always respond simply, “Because you told me Grandmom.”

To be honest, I was never especially close to my grandmother.  I spent more time with my Nana (my mom’s mom) growing up and I was especially close to my Nana. But, in the past few years, I have become closer to my grandmother.  So, although her dementia is a curse in many ways, I guess it has also been a gift.

Although I do hope that you never have to deal with the — of Alzheimer’s disease or Dementia, I’m sure many of you have.  How do you deal with the multitude of emotions? Do you have any suggestions for me – I am always open to new ideas!

Again, I did not make anything pretty today (I actually wrote a rather depressing post), but I am trying to focus in the positive aspects of caring for my grandmother and encourage you to do the same.  So, if you cannot make something pretty today, try to focus on the positives in the less-than-perfect aspects of your life.

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