Neurological diseases such as aphasia and dementia can be difficult to distinguish, but they affect the brain in different ways.
Here’s how you can tell the difference between dementia and aphasia, the disease that prompted actor Bruce Willis’ family to recently announce his retirement.
What is aphasia?
Aphasia is a neurodegenerative disease that can affect the speech function of the brain. The disease affects the ability to communicate and speak. According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of aphasia may include the ability to speak in full or complete sentences, speaking in disjointed sentences, speaking in unrecognizable words, confusing one word or sound with another, and an inability to understand speech.
On the other hand, dementia can cause the inability to speak, but it is a more general term that refers to cognitive decline and memory loss. Dementia involves the general degeneration of brain tissue. It is not limited to the decline in speech function. The progressive disease damages the brain and affects daily functions.
Causes of dementia and aphasia
Risk factors for dementia include age, genes, cholesterol, smoking, excessive alcohol use, and diabetes. While various risk factors may increase the likelihood of developing dementia, this does not mean that a patient will be diagnosed with this condition. This makes it difficult to determine and predict who will eventually develop dementia. The early stages of dementia may seem like normal forgetfulness due to aging, and you may not be able to tell if you have dementia, according to Medical News Today.
However, aphasia often occurs after a stroke, head injury, or tumor, all of which can cause blood loss to the brain resulting in damage to brain cells in the area of the brain that control speech function, according to the Mayo Clinic. A speech pathologist diagnoses aphasia with comprehensive language assessments, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. A doctor may be able to diagnose aphasia with brain scans such as an MRI or CT scan.
Doctors recommend that patients undergo speech therapy to treat aphasia, but sometimes aphasia can get better without treatment. Speech therapy helps restore speech and increases communication skills. It can also help patients find alternative methods of communication, and serves as a resource for learning more about aphasia and how it affects the patient, according to Great Britain’s National Health Service.
There are no known treatments for dementia. However, medications and other treatments may reduce or slow down symptoms of dementia, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Some types of dementia that develop from treatable causes can be reversed. These causes include medication side effects, removable tumors, metabolic disorders, low blood sugar, and depression. Dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, dementia associated with Parkinson’s disease and similar diseases, AIDS dementia complex, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease cannot be reversed. But there are medications available that help treat symptoms. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are medications that can slow the progression of the disease, or they can individually treat certain symptoms such as memory loss.