What is the Difference Between Dementia and Alzheimer’s?
Dementia is a condition, not a specific disease. Dementia is defined as cognitive loss so severe that a person can’t perform basic tasks to get through the day independently. Memory loss, impaired judgement, unclear thinking and difficulty with social situations are all indicators of dementia.
Dementia has various causes, some of which are temporary and, therefore, reversible. Examples of causes of reversible dementia include drug reactions, depression, infection and electrolyte imbalance. With accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment, the person can go on to resume full cognitive functioning.
Alzheimer’s is not a condition, but a specific disease caused by changes in the structure of the brain and a shortage of important chemicals that help with transmission of messages. It is the most common form of irreversible dementia, accounting for 62% of cases. At the present time the progression of Alzheimer’s cannot be stopped or reversed.
Vascular dementia, caused by problems with the supply of blood to the brain from a stroke or series of small strokes, accounts for about 17% of the cases of irreversible dementia. The remainder of cases of irreversible dementia are caused by rarer forms such as mixed dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies and fronto-temporal dementia which is seen more commonly in people under age 65.
It is important that a proper diagnosis is made when someone displays signs of dementia such as memory loss that is affecting daily functioning. The evaluation for dementia can be started with the primary care provider but may eventually require referral to a specialist such as a neurologist or geriatric specialist if it is not a form of reversible dementia.
Early diagnosis is crucial in either reversible or irreversible dementia. In the event of a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or other irreversible dementia, early diagnosis allow for patients and families to plan for the future, benefit from support services, and perhaps even participate in clinical trials which may lead to eventual effective treatment or even a cure.
For more information on dementia and Alzheimer’s visit the Alzheimer’s Association website at www.alz.org .
Primary Information source: Texas Health and Human Services System and the Alzheimer’s Association
Written by: Terri Knox, RN, CDE