Although many use the terms dementia and Alzheimer’s interchangeably, they are not the same. Not being able to distinguish between the two is often confusing for families, patients, and caregivers.
Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a syndrome that affects memory, communication skills, and the performance of daily activities. Dementia includes Alzheimer’s, which is a specific form of dementia.
Many of the symptoms of the two conditions do overlap but understanding how the two are different is important for the proper treatment of each.
Dementia is a syndrome that is represented by a set of symptoms without a definitive diagnosis. The group of symptoms we call dementia are generally those that affect your cognitive abilities.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 50 to 70% of dementia cases are caused by Alzheimer’s disease.
Common types of dementia include Alzheimer’s (the most common form of dementia), Lewy body dementia, and vascular dementia. According to the Mayo Clinic, Lewy bodies are deposits of an abnormal protein in the brain and can affect everything from thinking and movement to mood and behavior.
People can have “mixed dementia” which is having more than just one type. These are patients who display multiple conditions that contribute to their syndrome. But unfortunately, at the current time, “mixed dementia” can only be confirmed by performing an autopsy.
Symptoms of Dementia
The early symptoms of dementia can be quite subtle, so they’re easy to miss. It might just start out as a few episodes of forgetfulness. Dementia can cause one to completely lose track of time, and patients can find themselves utterly lost, even in the most familiar of places.
Of course, as dementia progresses, so do the symptoms. People can forget the names and faces of people they’ve known all their lives and even become unable to take care of themselves. The more noticeable symptoms include repeating questions, memory loss, poor decision making, and lack of hygiene.
Common Causes of Dementia
While younger people can develop dementia, it is more likely to appear as you age. Dementia occurs when brain cells are damaged—degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, and Parkinson’s disease can be the cause.
Other sources for dementia can include infections like HIV, stroke, vascular diseases, depression, and chronic drug use.
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that slowly produces memory impairment and a decrease in cognitive ability. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s, and the precise cause is unknown.
Unlike Alzheimer’s, some forms of dementia caused by drug interactions or a vitamin deficiency can be reversed or are only temporary.
The National Institutes of Health have estimated that more than 5 million people in the U.S. are suffering from Alzheimer’s.
Most people first notice symptoms over the age of 60, but brain damage starts years before the onset of symptoms. Alzheimer’s causes protein deposits on the brain in the form of plaque and tangles. Brain cells become disconnected from one another and begin to die, and the brain will shrink in advanced cases of Alzheimer’s.
Like “mixed dementia,” Alzheimer’s can only be absolutely confirmed once an autopsy has been conducted, but it has been determined that specialists in the field of Alzheimer’s have been able to correctly diagnose the disease around 90% of the time.
Learn More About Clinical Trials in Boston for Alzheimer’s Disease
Do you or a family member suffer from Alzheimer’s disease? Are you interested in participating in a clinical trial? We have a wide variety of clinical trials available for Alzheimer’s disease. You or your loved one may qualify if specific criteria are met.