Nov 20, 2018

What’s the Difference Between Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia?

In a nutshell, dementia is a symptom, and Alzheimer's disease is the cause of the symptom. When someone is told they have dementia, it means that they have significant memory problems as well as other cognitive difficulties, and that these problems are severe enough to get in the way of daily living.....

Dementia presents as a group of symptoms, and Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia.

When someone is told they have Alzheimer's or dementia, it means they have significant memory problems as well as other cognitive and behavioral issues.

By Bob DeMarco
Alzheimer's Reading Room
In a nutshell, dementia isn't a specific disease. Instead, dementia describes a group of symptoms affecting memory, thinking and social abilities severely enough to interfere with daily functioning. Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia.

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Alzheimer's vs dementia.

1. The Difference Between Alzheimer's and Dementia

A good analogy to the term dementia is “fever.” Fever refers to an elevated temperature, indicating that a person is sick. But it does not give any information about what is causing the illness.

In the same way, dementia means that there is something wrong with a person’s brain, but it does not provide any information about what is causing the memory or cognitive difficulties.

Dementia is not a disease - it is the clinical presentation of symptoms of a disease.

2. The Difference Between Dementia and Alzheimer's

When you to the grocery store you usually visit the section where you will find the fruit. You will see many different kinds of fruit like: apples, oranges, bananas and pears. Each is a kind, or type of fruit.

Let's imagine you could go into a store and visit the dementia section. What would you see?

So if an apple is a type of fruit; then Alzheimer's is a type of dementia.

Common types of dementia include:

There are of course many things that either contribute to or cause dementia. These include: Parkinson's disease, Huntington’s disease, Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease, depression, and alcoholism just to name a few.

There are many possible causes of dementia like symptoms. Some causes are reversible, such as certain thyroid conditions or vitamin deficiencies.

If these underlying problems are identified and treated, then the dementia reverses and the person can return to normal functioning.

However, most causes of dementia are not reversible. Rather, they are degenerative diseases of the brain that get worse over time.

The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer's disease, accounting for as many as 70-80% of all cases of dementia

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Confusion about Alzheimer's and dementia on the part of family and friends

The confusion is felt on the part of patients, family members, the media, and even health care providers.
  • “Dementia” is a term that has replaced a more out-of-date word, “senility,” to refer to cognitive changes with advanced age.
  • Dementia includes a group of symptoms, the most prominent of which is memory difficulty with additional problems in at least one other area of cognitive functioning, including language, attention, problem solving, spatial skills, judgment, planning, or organization.
  • These cognitive problems are a noticeable change compared to the person’s cognitive functioning earlier in life and are severe enough to get in the way of normal daily living, such as social and occupational activities.

Contrary to what some people may think, dementia is not a less severe problem, with Alzheimer's disease being a more severe problem.

  • There is not a continuum with dementia on one side and Alzheimer's disease at the extreme. Rather, there can be early or mild stages of Alzheimer's, which then progress to moderate and severe stages of the disease.
  • One reason for the confusion about dementia and Alzheimer's disease is that it is not possible to diagnose Alzheimer's with 100% accuracy while someone is alive. Rather, Alzheimer's disease can only truly be diagnosed after death, upon autopsy when the brain tissue is carefully examined by a specialized doctor referred to as a neuropathologist.
  • During life, a patient can be diagnosed with “probable Alzheimer's.” This term is used by doctors and researchers to indicate that, based on the person’s symptoms, the course of the symptoms, and the results of various tests, it is very likely that the person will show pathological features of Alzheimer's disease when the brain tissue is examined following death.

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Under: difference between Alzheimer's and dementia

Publisher Alzheimer's Reading Room
Author Bob DeMarco
June, 2010
Title: "What’s the Difference Between Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia?"

Originally published in the Alzheimer's Reading Room, 2010
"What’s the Difference Between Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia?"


Alzheimer's and Dementia Definitions

Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of a progressive dementia in older adults, but there are a number of causes of dementia. Depending on the cause, some dementia symptoms can be reversed.
~ Mayo Clinic

Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease aren’t the same. Dementia is an overall term used to describe symptoms that impact memory, performance of daily activities, and communication abilities. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease gets worse with time and affects memory, language, and thought.
~ Healthline

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~  Rudy Tanzi, Harvard, Time Magazine's 100 most influential people in the world