Alzheimer’s vs. Dementia

There is great confusion about the difference between Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. This confusion is felt on the part of patients, family members, the media and even healthcare providers. Most people use the terms “Alzheimer’s” and “dementia” interchangeably.

“It is important to understand the main differences between these two terms…”

While the terms are closely related, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are not actually the same thing. Especially in elderly patients, however, distinguishing between Alzheimer’s and other late-life causes of dementia can be very difficult.

Even the most knowledgeable doctors often make the wrong diagnosis. It is important to understand the main differences between these two terms because they are terms most caregivers will encounter when caring for an elderly loved one.

“In a nutshell, dementia is a set of symptoms, and Alzheimer’s disease is a potential cause of those symptoms.”

In a nutshell, dementia is a set of symptoms, and Alzheimer’s disease is a potential cause of those symptoms. Dementia is simply an impairment of thinking or memory that interferes with a person’s ability to do things he or she was previously able to do.

Alzheimer’s disease, which can only be diagnosed with complete accuracy after death through a microscopic examination of brain tissue, is a disease caused by brain abnormalities.

Symptoms of Dementia

A good analogy to dementia is “fever.” A fever, an elevation in a person’s temperature, indicates that the person is sick. In the same way, dementia indicates that there is something wrong with a person’s brain. However, it does not indicate what is necessarily causing the cognitive or memory difficulties.

Reasons for Memory Loss

Because Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia in elderly patients, accounting for as many as 70 to 80 percent of all cases of dementia in patients 65 years old and older, the disease is often equated with the general term dementia.

Proper Treatment

However, there can be other reasons for why someone might experience dementia besides Alzheimer’s disease. For example, there are some reversible causes of dementia such as thyroid conditions or vitamin deficiencies. If these problems are properly identified and treated, the dementia can be reversed and the patient can continue on to live a normal life.

Is Dementia Reversible?

Unfortunately, however, the majority of causes of dementia are not reversible. Instead, dementia is usually caused by a variety of degenerate diseases that will only worsen overtime. Such causes of dementia include Vascular dementia, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, Lewy Body dementia, Cruetzfeldt-Jakob disease and Frontotemporal dementia.

Testing for Dementia

Doctors can use a variety of methods to determine the cause of dementia. These methods include blood tests, mental status evaluations, neuropsychological testing and brain scans. According the Mayo Clinic, doctors can accurately diagnose the cause of dementia in 90 percent of all cases.

“Dementia is not a normal part of the aging process..”

It is important to note that dementia is not a normal part of the aging process. Many times caregivers disregard dementia-like symptoms such as memory loss and poor judgment because they associate these types of symptoms with growing older. However, this is a misconception.

Contact Your Health Care Physician

Elderly people experiencing dementia-like symptoms need to seek medical attention immediately. Dementia represents an important problem in need of proper diagnosis and treatment by a well-trained healthcare provider who specializes in degenerate diseases. In some lucky cases, the dementia might even be able to be reversed.

Want support dealing with a loved one with Dementia? Click here.