How Do Dementia and Alzheimer's Relate and Differ?
There’s a lot of confusion around dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Many people believe them to be the same thing and most don’t know what the differences between the two are.
This is because dementia and Alzheimer's disease do share many of the same symptoms. They are not, however, different names for the same condition.
To avoid making this common mistake, here’s what you need to know about the variations between Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Syndrome Versus Disease
Dementia is not a specific disease — it’s a syndrome. This is a group of symptoms that always occur together.
The word ‘dementia’ describes a set of symptoms that can include issues with language, memory loss and difficulty thinking or problem-solving, caused when damage occurs to the brain cells. Alzheimer’s is an actual disease that destroys the brain, and therefore it is one of the most common causes of dementia.
As many as 50 to 70 percent of all dementia cases are caused by Alzheimer’s; however, there are also other conditions that can cause dementia, such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and Parkinson’s disease.
Dementia is often incorrectly described as ‘senility’ or ‘senile dementia.’ These terms come from a time when it was widely believed that serious mental decline was a normal part of aging, which is not the case.
Symptoms of Dementia
Different types of dementia are associated with different types of brain damage. For this reason, the symptoms of dementia can vary greatly.
But some of the symptoms you should prepare to experience if you have been diagnosed with dementia are:
- Trouble with visual perception
- Loss of the ability to focus
- A reduction in your attention span
- Difficulties with reasoning and judgment
- Communication and language problems
- Memory loss
In addition, The Alzheimer’s Society reported that an estimated 10 percent of people with dementia suffer from more than one type at the same time. The most common combination of this being Alzheimer's disease with vascular dementia.
Alzheimer’s As a Form of Dementia
The Alzheimer’s Association says that Alzheimer’s disease is, in fact, a specific form of dementia.
It is caused when high levels of particular proteins inside and outside of the brain cells make it difficult for the cells to stay healthy and to communicate with each other. This leads to the connections being lost between nerve cells, and ultimately to the death of the nerve cells and loss of brain tissue.
The foremost difference between Alzheimer’s disease and dementia is that when an individual is diagnosed with dementia, they are diagnosed based on the symptoms they are experiencing without necessarily knowing what is causing these symptoms.
In Alzheimer’s disease, the exact cause of the symptoms is known. Additionally, Alzheimer's disease is not reversible, where some types of dementia, such as those caused by a drug interaction or nutritional problems, can be reversed.
Other Forms of Dementia
While Alzheimer’s disease is the most prevalent cause of dementia, many other conditions can lead to the syndrome. Some of the disorders are more common than others, some are extremely rare, but with each disorder the cause of the symptoms is known. This is important so that the best plan for treatment and management can be found.
This is the second most common form of dementia and occurs when there is poor blood flow to the brain. This deprives the brain cells of the oxygen and nutrients that they to be able to function correctly.
Vascular dementia can be a result of any number of conditions that narrow the blood vessels. These include diabetes, stroke and hypertension.
Mixed dementia is the term used to describe the condition when it has more than one underlying cause. The most common form of mixed dementia is a combination of Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia.
Dementia with Lewy Bodies (DLB)
You may hear this referred to as Lewy Body Disease. This type of dementia is caused when abnormal protein deposits called Lewy bodies appear in the nerve cells of the brain stem.
The Lewy bodies disrupt the normal functioning of the brain, which impairs cognition and behavior. An individual with DLB might also suffer from tremors. This condition is not reversible and has no known cure.
Parkinson's Disease Dementia (PDD)
Parkinson's disease is a chronic and progressive neurological condition, but not all people with PDD will go on to develop dementia. In the advanced stages of the disease, cognitive functioning can be affected.
When dementia does develop due to Parkinson's it is also a Lewy body dementia. The symptoms of dementia which occur with PDD include muscle stiffness, tremors and speech problems. Memory, reasoning and judgment are also usually affected.
Pick's disease is the most common of the frontotemporal dementia types. It is a rare condition that causes damage to the brain cells in the frontal and temporal lobes.
Pick's disease usually affects the individual's personality considerably. There will often be a decline in social skills and emotional apathy. In Pick's disease, you will typically experience changes in behavior and personality before memory loss and speech problems occur. In this way, Pick’s disease differs from all other forms of dementia.