There is a lot of confusion when you ask someone what is the difference between Alzheimer's and Dementia! A lot of people assume that they are exactly the same thing and some others see them as completely distinct and separate kinds of illness.
Even though it seems like just being semantics, it is quite important to get diagnosed properly and start getting the treatment for your particular symptoms.
Here is a great article written by Frena Gray-Davidson, who is an Alzheimer's caregiver and an author of several works related to this illness, trying to de-mistify the difference between Alzheimer's and dementia.
“What's the difference between Alzheimer's and dementia?” asks a sensible middle-aged woman in my Alzheimer's Boot Camp class for start-up family caregivers.
I'm always still amazed to find that is the most common question I get asked. So, writing as a non-medical longterm dementia caregiver, here goes.
Alzheimer's disease IS a dementia, one of many. Especially many dementias of old age. Some have specific names, many don't. Among the dementias with names are Alzheimer's disease, Korsakoff's Syndrome connected with alcoholism, vascular dementia, Pick's disease, AIDs dementia, Lewy Body disease and many more.
All Alzheimer's disease is dementia but not all dementias are Alzheimer's.
There are also dementias associated with other health conditions, but without their own special name. Such as lack of sufficient oxygen to the brain, Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus and dementia of the dying process.
There are temporary dementias, such as when an elder goes into hospital. It is quite common for someone to develop what looks like dementia but which tends to gradually clear up after returning home again.
The term dementia really only describes what we see. It is a syndrome of behaviors, brain function loss and memory issues that we see affecting a person. Dementia does not describe only memory issues. There are a lot of normal age-related memory issues which are not dementia — trouble remembering names, the title of a movie and so on.
When we see this collection of dysfunctions, that's when we get that person to the doctor for a full Alzheimer's investigation.
By the way, Dr Alzheimer's Alzheimer's disease is not really our Alzheimer's. Back in the early years of last century, the good doctor Alzheimer researched what was then called “Pre-senile dementia” — what we now call early-onset dementia.
He did not investigate dementias in elders, the most common dementia we hear spoken about today. Now, whether Alzheimer's is really the most common dementia in reality — well, that is quite another question.
That is actually a bit of a mystery. Well, a big mystery. There is so far no actual marker for Alzheimer's. There is no genetic marker, no chemical marker, even the physical deterioration is not absolutely Alzheimer's beyond all doubt. This will undoubtedly change as research continues into this most-researched of all medical conditions.
A lot of people don't realize an official diagnosis of Alzheimer's is actually a default diagnosis. It is what remains after other knowable things have been eliminated — medication issues, liver test, blood test, cancer and so on. To me, a very non-medical person, it seems like saying someone has a cold but not knowing which virus caused it.
But hey, as long as they continue the search for the cure of the common cold — or, in this case, Alzheimer's — I guess that's okay for the moment.
So, just tell your friends, all Alzheimer's is dementia but not all dementia is Alzheimer's. And what you guess is dementia may not be dementia at all.
And I also stumbled upon this essay by Gwen Sherwood in which he focuses mostly on the symptoms of either disease and tries to distinguish the difference using his own method. Hopefully this clears things a bit more!
Some call dementia a disease. Others think of it as a disorder. Then there are those who refer to dementia as a syndrome. A syndrome is a set of signs and symptoms. However, everyone seems to agree that someone with dementia has a certain set of indicators that show how their brain works.
Dementia affects a person's memory, thinking, and reasoning skills. Dementia comes on very slowly, little by little. The typical diagnosis occurs later in life, in a person's 60's or 70's.
The American Medical Association lists symptoms of dementia as follows:
– Memory impairment
– Increased language difficulties
– Decreased motor skills
– Failure to recognize or identify objects
– Disturbance of the ability to plan or think abstractly
Dementia signs include the following:
– Inability to remember recent events
– Inability to think or speak clearly, pauses in speech
– Trouble with balance or muscle weakness
– Trouble learning new things, such as a new kitchen appliance
– Repeating the same thing over and over
– Shying away from social situations where they weren't shy before
The more often and extreme the occurrences in the signs above shows how severe the loss of brain function is. It will be harder for people with dementia to take care of themselves over time.
Alzheimer's disease is a form of dementia. The main trait is the steady loss of a number of vital mental abilities. Alzheimer's is the most common cause of dementia in older people. The hallmark of Alzheimer's disease is memory loss.
The memory loss involved with Alzheimer's disease is very severe and serious. If you have Alzheimer's disease, you may not remember the names of your children. You may not remember where you've lived for the last decade or two.
You notice Alzheimer's disease much earlier than dementia. Alzheimer's can begin as early as age 45. As revealed earlier, dementia diagnoses usually occur after age 60.
Typically, the symptoms of dementia will take decades to develop. This is why it generally goes unnoticed. Cognitive decline can start as early as age 35. We compensate by filling in the blanks with a lifetime of experiences.
If not due to genetics, research has shown that you can delay cognitive decline and Alzheimer's disease. You can reverse it if you catch it early enough. There is even the possibility of eliminating this fate altogether through brain training. Lifestyle factors also come into play, like diet and exercise. The important thing is that you are in control of your future.
I encourage you to investigate brain-training programs, I'm sure you will be glad you did. Be sure to verify claims made and that they have clinically-proven research to back their claims up.