Last Updated: May 21, 2019
Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are two terms that are often used interchangeably as many people believe that one means the other. In fact, the distinction between the two diseases often causes confusion on the behalf of caregivers, families and patients. Learn more about how the two diagnoses, while related, are remarkably different.
What Is Alzheimer’s Disease?
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Alzheimer’s disease is a common cause of dementia, causing as many as 50-70% of all dementia cases. In fact, Alzheimer’s is a very specific form of dementia. Symptoms of Alzheimer’s include confusion, impaired speech and thought.
Doctors use a variety of screenings to determine the cause of dementia, including blood tests, brain scans and mental status evaluations.
What Is Dementia?
Dementia is an umbrella term for a set of symptoms including impaired memory and thinking. It is a term that is often associated with the cognitive decline of aging. However, issues other than Alzheimer’s can cause dementia.
Other common causes of dementia are Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, Huntington’s disease and Parkinson’s Disease.
How Are They Different?
When a person is diagnosed with dementia, they are being diagnosed with a set of symptoms. This is similar to someone who has a sore throat. Their throat is sore but it is not known what is causing that particular symptom. It could be allergies, a common cold or strep throat. Similarly, when someone has dementia they are experiencing symptoms without being told what is causing those symptoms.
Another major difference between the two is that Alzheimer’s is not a reversible disease. It is degenerative and incurable at this time. Some forms of dementia, such as a drug interaction or a vitamin deficiency, are actually reversible or temporary.
Once a cause of dementia is found, appropriate treatment and counseling can begin. Until a proper diagnosis is made, the best approach to any dementia is communication, engagement and loving care.
The Need for More Public Awareness and Research Funding
While the differences between Alzheimer’s and dementia are clear to families dealing with the diseases, more public awareness is needed to differentiate between the two.
Further understanding of what exactly causes Alzheimer’s will help to clear any confusion and hopefully lead to better treatments plans and, ultimately, a cure.