Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are often used interchangeably as many people believe that one means the other.
According to the National Institute on Aging (NIA), Dementia is a brain disorder that affects communication and performance of daily activities and Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia that specifically affects parts of the brain that control thought, memory and language.
What is dementia?
Dementia is an impairment of thinking and memory that interferes with a person’s ability to do things which he or she previously was able to do. Dementia is a symptom much like pain is a symptom. Many different injuries and illnesses can cause pain – the same is true for dementia. When you go to the doctor because you hurt, you won’t be satisfied if the doctor diagnoses “pain” and sends you home. You want to know what is causing the pain, and how to treat it. “Dementia” simply means the symptom of a deterioration of intellectual abilities resulting from an unspecified disease or disorder of the brain. There are many different causes of dementia and Alzheimer’s is just one of them.
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is a specific disease that causes dementia. It is a progressive brain disease. Alzheimer’s destroys brain cells, causing problems with memory, thinking and behavior severe enough to affect work, lifelong hobbies or social life. Alzheimer’s gets worse over time, and it is fatal. It is the most common form of dementia.
Alzheimer’s disease is particularly common in older people. Because it is the most common cause of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease is commonly equated with the general term dementia. However, there are many other causes of dementia. To be clear, Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia and that is the main difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s.
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, strep throat, or a common cold. 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 engagement, communication and loving care.
The Need for More Public Awareness and Research Funding
While the differences between Alzheimer’s disease 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 disease will help to clear any confusion and hopefully lead to better treatments plans and, ultimately, a cure.