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Diagnosis Matters: Is It Alzheimer's or Another Dementia?

Alissa Sauer
By Alissa SauerMay 14, 2019

Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are two terms often used interchangeably. However, the two conditions are different and diagnosing the cause of impaired cognition is incredibly important.

Learn more about other conditions that cause dementia and why getting the correct diagnosis is important.

Why an Alzheimer’s or Another Dementia Diagnosis Matters

It is not uncommon for seniors to be told they have Alzheimer’s when they, in fact, have another form of dementia. There are a wide range of brain diseases that can impair memory, judgment and thinking, including strokes and certain forms of Parkinson’s disease.

Dr. Julie Schneider, professor at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago and the scientific chair of a summit held at the National Institutes of Health notes, “There’s a host of things that can cause loss of cognitive function.”

She also notes that many patients have more than one disease affecting brain health. While many of these diseases have no cure, it is still important to get the right diagnosis to ensure patients are receiving the best care and treatment plan.

Studies have shown that 20-50% of the 5.8 million people living with dementia have another type of disease. The Alzheimer’s Association has found that vascular disease, caused by damage to blood vessels, accounts for up to 10% of all dementia cases. Additionally, Lewy body disease, closely related to Parkinson’s, also accounts for up to 10% of dementia cases and frontotemporal lobar degeneration accounts for less than 10% of dementia cases but affects the area of the brain involved in behavior, language and personality.

“We still believe that Alzheimer’s is important,” Dr. Schneider says. “But these other pathologies are also important.”

Getting the diagnosis right can help manage symptoms of dementia, help families prepare for the future, and in some cases, may slow the progression of the disease.

Have you, a parent or a senior loved one received an incorrect Alzheimer’s diagnosis? How did receiving the correct diagnosis change your family’s care plan? We’d like to hear your stories in the comments below.

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Alissa Sauer

Alissa Sauer

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