Alzheimer’s and Dementia – Is There a Difference?

There are so many myths about mental illnesses being spread today. One area of uncertainty lies in the differences between Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is defined as “a form of degenerative brain disease resulting in progressive mental weakening with disorientation, memory disturbance and disorder.” Some definitions of Alzheimer’s disease even include the word dementia, so it is easy to see why a distinction between the two is not always made.

Dementia is defined as a “progressive brain dysfunction that eventually leads to the limitation of daily activities.” Symptoms of this condition include loss of memory, changes in behavior and other skill and orientation problems. Sounds like Alzheimer’s disease, some might say. So what are the differences between the two conditions?

First of all, dementia can develop in a person for a number of reasons. Forms of infection, strokes, head injuries, abuse of drugs and nutritional deficiencies can cause dementia. In addition to those, other medical diseases, including Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, Pick’s disease, brain tumors and even some cases of HIV or syphilis, can lead to dementia. Some diseases that cause dementia are curable, and some symptoms of dementia are least partially reversible with proper treatment.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most frequent cause of dementia. Studies showed that in nearly 70% of people who suffered from dementia, Alzheimer’s disease was the cause. In this disease, abnormal protein deposits in the brain destroy cells in other important areas that control memory and mental functions. People with Alzheimer’s disease also have lost some levels of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters, which further affects the thinking process. This disease causes not only dementia but also a gradual cerebral deterioration and is not reversible. Despite some foolish claims to the contrary, no cure exists for Alzheimer’s disease.

Dementia itself is not an illness. Rather, the word is a general description of progressive brain dysfunction. It is a group of symptoms that may accompany other diseases or physical conditions. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common source of this condition, one of some fifty different causes of dementia, and a disease that in most cases develops unpredictably and without certain explanation.

What if a patient suffering from dementia symptoms is diagnosed as having “probable Alzheimer’s disease” or “dementia of the Alzheimer type”? Since there is no one quick and easy test for detecting Alzheimer’s, qualified physicians must make a diagnosis through the process of elimination. After exclusion other forms of dementia, a 90% accurate diagnosis will be made that the patient is indeed suffering from an Alzheimer’s type of progressive brain dysfunction. The only definitive way to diagnose the disease would be through the examination of brain tissue, which is usually only done in an autopsy.

True, that both of these conditions are mainly found in elderly people. Studies show that individuals over age of 60, about 6% suffer from dementia, and over the age of 80 about 20%. Alzheimer’s disease, sometimes referred to as “senile dementia”, also is very likely to affect those over the age of 80 also with a 20% affected rate. However, that’s not to say that only elderly individuals are at risk. Not only can some types of dementia affect younger people whether due to poor health or unexpected medical conditions, but even Alzheimer’s disease has developed in people in their forties and fifties.

While Alzheimer’s and dementia are often linked with another, there are some notable differences. Learning more about Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia is important, for the ones suffering the symptoms, as well as friends and family. It is also important for one receive a correct diagnosis when serious symptoms start to appear. Some forms of dementia can be treated if caught early and even for the ones that cannot, it is still important to get a diagnosis so that a plan of action can be set. The more people learn about this subject, including the particulars like the differences between dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, the more they will understand what is happening and the best way to deal with the situation if and when it develops. The more people know the more people can help.

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