Mental Illness vs. Dementia – Here Is What You Need To know!

July 25th, 2017

When it comes to mental health and mental issues, it is often a common practice to confuse different terms with each other or perhaps not even acknowledge something as true or real. While some people do understand that a mental disorder is something that does exist, there are also people who completely negate the idea and deem it to be non-existent.

Same is the case with issues like mental illness and dementia. While these two may sound similar and alike with no apparent difference, there is actually quite a well-defined distinction between the two. Each has a different set of signs and symptoms that can help you tell them apart and not mix them up.

Mental illness vs. Dementia

When people hear or think of the term ‘dementia’, they often consider it a mental illness due to the effects it has on the human brain. While it does impair the brain and also affects your mental health, it is not really a mental illness. Dementia is actually a disorder of the brain that results in memory loss, impaired communication and thought.

Mental illness, on the other hand, is more like a disease or condition that results in mild or severe disturbances in an individual’s emotion, thought or behavior which interferes with their daily functioning and activities. It is also marked by an inability to cope up with day-to-day demands and routines.

Symptoms

Although, in a way, dementia does come under the umbrella of mental illness, they both have different signs and symptoms that draw a distinction between the two.

For dementia, an individual must have two types of impairment, at the least, which impedes their daily functioning. Some of the most common symptoms of dementia are short term memory changes, difficulty in remembering things, people and events and difficulty in finding the right words and facing struggle in communicating thoughts. Other symptoms also include inability to express themselves, obvious and sudden changes in mood, confusion, and inability to adapt to change.

On the other hand, mental illness involves depression, excessive fears and anxieties, feelings of anger, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts, hallucinations, social withdrawal, etc.

While some of these symptoms may coincide with those of dementia, they are still two very different areas of mental health which cannot be considered same or alike.

Causes

While the exact causes for both these may be difficult to single out, but collectively, there are few basic factors that may lead to the development of such illnesses. These range from the genetic makeup of a person to biological or physical changes in the brain, social or external factors like isolation and lastly to psychological factors that have to do with the self.

Unlike several mental illnesses, dementia is a result of damage to certain parts of the brain or the death of brain cells. It can also transform into Alzheimer’s which is a more serious and degenerative form of dementia which tends to get worse over time.

Risk factors

Dementia and mental illnesses involve several risk factors that increase an individual’s likelihood or probability of developing these problems, and while some factors can be improved or altered, others cannot.

Some of the risk factors for dementia include age, where the risk of developing dementia increases as you age, hypertension where an increase in your blood pressure can lead to cognitive decline; it can also cause different forms of dementia that can severely affect the grey matter region of the brain. Having diabetes also puts you at a risk where poor controlled diabetes increases the chances of vascular dementia. Furthermore, presence of mental illness like depression has also been linked to decline in cognitive functioning and mental impairment.

On the other hand, risk factors for mental illness include having a blood relative, parent or sibling, with a mental illness, use of alcohol or substance abuse and having an ongoing medical condition. A history of mental illness, any kind of traumatic brain injury, or perhaps living through life situations that are very stressful or demanding can also put you at a risk of developing a mental illness later on.

Is there a cure or treatment?

More often than not, diseases and illnesses do not have a well-defined cure or treatment for them. Sometimes, it requires a combination of treatment methods to help alleviate the symptoms of a disease, while in other cases, there is no cure at all.

For treating dementia, medication is often recommended which may include memantine, cholinesterase inhibitors, etc. that are meant to improve brain functions like memory, thinking and learning. Besides medications, many dementia symptoms and behaviors are treated through therapies like occupation therapy, aromatherapy, etc.

For mental illness, a single treatment or a combination may be used. These also include medications, first and foremost that help the brain restore its chemical balance in order to reduce the symptoms. Other than that, there are therapies involved too like psychotherapy, electroconvulsive therapy, and creative therapies like play or art therapy.

While dementia and mental illness have a few differences in terms of treatment and risk factors, they are also quite similar when it comes to their causes and treatments. However, the point to consider here is that one should be able to diagnose others correctly despite these differences and similarities and also be well-informed about the different kinds of mental illnesses and disorders. It is also very important to have a good mental health, so one should always strive towards maintaining a strong mental health and a good support system.

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