July 12, 2016
What’s the Difference Between Alzheimer’s and Dementia?
In one sentence, dementia is a symptom, and Alzheimer’s disease is the cause of the symptom. If someone is battling with dementia, it means they have major memory problems along with cognitive difficulties.
Patients and their family members are too frequently told by their doctors that the patient has been diagnosed with “a little bit of dementia.” As a result, they leave the doctor’s visit feeling relieved that they don’t have Alzheimer’s disease.
There is great confusion felt on the part of patients, family members, the media, and even healthcare providers about the difference between “dementia” and “Alzheimer’s”. This article will help reduce the confusion by defining and describing these two common and misunderstood terms.
What is the difference between Alzheimer’s disease and dementia?
The term “dementia” is now used by many in place of the word “senility,” when referring to cognitive changes associated with advanced aging.
Dementia includes a particular group of symptoms, memory difficulty being the most severe along with problems in a minimal of one other area of cognitive functioning, including language, attention, problem solving, spatial skills, judgement, planning, or organization. These cognitive problems will accompany a noticeable change from the person’s functioning earlier and life, and often obstruct normal daily routines, like social and occupational activities.
(Read more: Embracing the Caregiver Role)
“Fever” is a good analogy to dementia. It refers to an elevated temperature, indicating sickness in an individual. However, it does not give any information what is causing the sickness. Similarly, dementia indicates that there is a problem with a person’s brain, but it does not provide any insight on what is causing the memory or cognitive difficulties. Dementia is not a disease; it is the clinical presentation or symptoms of a disease.
Most causes of dementia are permanent, or degenerative diseases of the brain that worsen over time. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, accounting for as many as 70-80% of all cases.
Roughly 5.3 million Americans currently live with Alzheimer’s. The prevalence of the disease increases with age; approximately 50% of people age 85 and older have the disease.
And while Alzheimer’s is extremely common in later years of life, it is not part of normal aging, nor is dementia. If someone has dementia it is a critical matter in need of the proper diagnosis and treatment by a well-trained healthcare provider who specializes in degenerative diseases.
Dementia is a symptom, and Alzheimer’s disease is the cause of the symptom.