Alzheimer’s Disease or Dementia: What’s the Difference?

mail-logo-ii2Dear Dementia Nurse,

My mother-in-law’s doctor sometimes says she has Alzheimer’s and sometimes says she has dementia. How do we know which it is?

Baffled in Birmingham

 

 

Dear Baffled,

Great question! Terms that are used in relation to brain illness can be confusing. Different health care providers may or may not use them correctly. Here’s the scoop: “dementia” refers to a group of symptoms while Alzheimer’s Disease is an illness that causes dementia.

Dementia can show up in a variety of ways. Forgetfulness usually starts gradually before progressing into real memory impairment. In many cases, dementia first appears as subtle changes in a person’s personality. For example, someone who has always been careful of their appearance may lose interest in how they look.

Confusion about how to say or do simple things may come and go. In rare instances, dementia may first manifest as seeing or hearing things that are not there. All of these changes are not diseases. They are the result of having brain disease.

Brain illnesses come in all shapes and sizes. The different illnesses are classified by two main factors. These are 1) the mechanism that harms the brain’s cells and 2) where in the brain the damage tends to start. The specific brain illness that causes a person’s dementia will govern the nature of their symptoms.

Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common brain illness that causes dementia. Approximately 60% of people living with dementia have Alzheimer’s disease. If other brain illnesses cannot be clearly identified, doctors tend to assume that Alzheimer’s Disease is the correct diagnosis.

Aside from Alzheimer’s, the most common brain illnesses causing dementia are vascular dementia (VD), frontotemporal dementia (FTD), Lewy Body dementia (LBD) or dementia with Parkinson’s disease.Each illness affects the brain differently. The treatment of each varies based on the mechanism of the disease.

Hope that clears it up a bit, Baffled. Thanks again for asking. 

Wishing you peace, hope, and courage,

my-signature-the-dementia-nurse

 

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