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The Medical Differences Between Dementia And Alzheimer’s Disease

The Medical Differences Between Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease

Most of us tend to use the terms dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease interchangeably. If a person has any type of memory loss we are apt to say that they have Alzheimer’s. That isn’t always the case, and the confusion of the terms just adds to the concern about the cognition of  a loved one. In reality, dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease are very different and understanding their distinctions can help you to understand what types of support your loved one may need.

Dementia is “a general term for loss of memory and other mental abilities severe enough to interfere with daily life. It is caused by physical changes in the brain.”

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke adds to that definition, saying that  dementia is not a specific disease, rather, “It is a word for a group of symptoms. People with dementia may not be able to think well enough to do normal activities, such as getting dressed or eating. They may lose their ability to solve problems or control their emotions. Their personalities may change. They may become agitated or see things that are not there.”

In other words, people with dementia may or may not have Alzheimer’s disease. That is why the two are not interchangeable. In fact, there are many types of dementia. Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common and accounts for 60-80% of the cases. Other types of dementia include:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Vascular dementia
  • Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB)
  • Mixed dementia
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Frontotemporal dementia
  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
  • Normal pressure hydrocephalus
  • Huntington’s disease
  • Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome

How do you tell if someone has dementia?

While symptoms of dementia can vary greatly, at least two of the following abilities must be significantly impaired for a dementia diagnosis to be reached:

  • Memory
  • Communication and language
  • Ability to focus and pay attention
  • Reasoning and judgment
  • Visual perception

People with dementia may have problems with short-term memory, keeping track of a purse or wallet, paying bills, planning and preparing meals, remembering appointments or traveling out of the neighborhood.

Many dementias are progressive, meaning symptoms start out slowly and gradually get worse. Some forms of dementia can be caused by medications or a vitamin deficiency and can be treated by a change in medication or dosage.

How do you tell if someone has Alzheimer’s Disease?

A person suffering with Alzheimer’s disease will have impaired thought, impaired speech and confusion. The Centers for Disease Control defines Alzheimer’s Disease as a “progressive disease beginning with mild memory loss possibly leading to loss of the ability to carry on a conversation and respond to the environment.” It affects parts of the brain that control thought, memory and language. Alzheimer’s Disease can seriously affect a person’s ability to carry out simple daily activities or recognized loved ones. As opposed to dementia, Alzheimer’s disease is not reversible. It is degenerative and cannot be cured.

Seek help for a loved one with memory loss

It can be confusing to determine if an aging loved one is suffering from normal aging and memory loss, dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. The best thing to do is to keep track of the symptoms, and consult your loved one’s physician. They can refer you to a neurologist who can begin the testing necessary to reach a diagnosis.

In the meantime, Family Matters caregivers can help to alleviate your concerns about your loved one’s safety. Our caregivers are experienced with memory care and dementia. They will spend time with your loved one, provide companionship, activities that are mentally stimulating, and will cook nutrition meals and do light housekeeping. Most importantly, our caregivers will give you peace of mind that your loved one is safe and sound at home with the proper support for impaired cognition.

Carol Pardue-Spears

Carol has worked in the healthcare field for more than forty years. As a Certified Nursing Assistant, she worked for El Camino Hospital in the cardiac unit, Los Gatos Community Hospital, The Women’s Cancer Center in Los Gatos and several home health and hospice agencies. Carol founded Family Matters in 2002 to fill a deficit she witnessed in high-quality, in-home services and care.

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