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Alzheimer’s & Dementia: What’s the Difference?

You may have just come back from a doctor appointment with your senior loved one and the doctor told you that he/she has dementia. You give a big sigh of relief because you are thinking “I am so glad he/she does not have Alzheimer’s.” And, then you start to think, “What is the difference between the two anyway?” This is an excellent question, because there appears to be a lot of confusion between them – many people think they are the same thing — yet, dementia and Alzheimer’s are two completely different things.

Let’s first look at Alzheimer’s Disease. According to the Alzheimer’s Association (www.alz.org) it is, “A type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks.” Another reason for the confusion is that Alzheimer’s Disease is not easy to diagnose with 100% accuracy while someone is still living. So, a diagnosis can only be “probable” rather than definite.

But, what does this mean? It means that Alzheimer’s is a disease, and dementia is a symptom of the disease. Dementia can also be caused by other disorders other than Alzheimer’s that are reversible, such as vitamin deficiencies and dehydration, to name a few.

Now, let’s look at dementia. Dementia is the symptom of something (most commonly, Alzheimer’s Disease). Dementia can have a variety of symptoms, the most prominent one being memory difficulty. It can also include other cognitive functions such as problems with language abilities, spatial skills, judgment, planning or problem solving. These cognitive problems can be very noticeable, and can become severe enough to get in the way of a person’s normal daily living.

Are you still confused? To clarify further, here is an analogy that can better explain the difference between the two:

Let’s say you are sick with a “fever” of 102 degrees, so you assume that you are ill. But, you do not know what is causing your illness. When a person has “dementia” this means there is something going wrong in their brain, but there is no information on what is causing the memory difficulties. Dementia is not a disease, but it is the symptom of a disorder in the brain.

There are also many other causes of dementia that are not reversible, such as: Creuzfeldt-Jakob Disease; Lewy Bodies; Huntington’s Disease; Parkinson’s Disease; and Vascular and multi-infarct dementia. These are not all of the things that can cause dementia, but some of the major ones.

So, if your loved one starts to have memory problems, trouble solving simple problems or doing activities of daily living, and you suspect that they may have dementia or Alzheimer’s, contact their physician. The sooner this is diagnosed the sooner they can get help.

If you have further questions regarding dementia or Alzheimer’s after speaking with your loved ones’ doctor, contact the Alzheimer’s Association in your area or Visit Their Website. The more informed you are, the better prepared you will be to find help for them and keep them safe. Do you have any loved ones suffering from Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia? How did you land upon a final diagnosis?

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