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Dementia and Alzheimers Disease - The Difference

  • Published: 2009-06-26 (Revised/Updated 2016-04-25) : Author: John Trevey
  • Synopsis: Explains the difference between aging diseases dementia and Alzheimers disease as these terms do not have the same meaning.

Many people mistakenly use the terms dementia and Alzheimer's disease interchangeably, though the terms do not have the same meaning.

Alzheimer's disease is in fact the most common form of dementia, while dementia describes a collection of symptoms which may be but are not necessarily caused by Alzheimer's disease.

Confusion between the meanings of dementia and Alzheimer's disease stems from their similar symptoms, such as forgetfulness, time disorientation and a reduced ability to communicate effectively with others.

When a loved one is exhibiting symptoms of dementia, some people erroneously conclude that Alzheimer's disease is the cause. However, since some causes of dementia are treatable, making a distinction between the two and obtaining an accurate diagnosis for any condition that may exist may mean the difference between disease progression and treatment.

Dementia is a categorical term for disorders which affect the ability to reason, recall, think, communicate and move about.

Dementia can stem from several different conditions, only one of which is Alzheimer's disease.

Though Alzheimer's disease is the most common type of dementia, vascular dementia and Lewy body dementia are other common conditions which cause dementia in the elderly.

Vascular dementia is a condition in which arteries supplying blood to the brain become restricted, interrupting the supply of oxygen and other nutrients to the brain. Vascular dementia often appears after a patient has had a stroke, and its progression may be slowed through the treatment of conditions that could lead to additional strokes, such as high blood pressure.

Lewy body dementia is characterized by the presence of Lewy bodies, which are abnormal clusters of proteins that appear in the brain. Lewy bodies have been found in patients who have Lewy body dementia, Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease. Multiple forms of dementia can be observed in the same patient.

Though there are several other conditions that can cause dementia, some figures suggest that Alzheimer's disease is responsible for about 60 percent of dementia cases.

Alzheimer's disease affects patients with more intensity as time goes on, and is sometimes dismissed in the early stages as forgetfulness that is expected to occur with age. While some degree of memory loss is to be expected as a healthy person ages, significant changes in memory and cognitive function warrant a visit to a dementia specialist for evaluation.

Remember, the symptoms of dementia do not necessarily suggest that a person has Alzheimer's disease. Thorough testing and evaluation by a dementia specialist is advised for anyone exhibiting the symptoms of dementia, especially if symptoms seem to be progressing.

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