Dementia vs. Alzheimer’s: Yes, There Is a Difference!


Creutzfeldt-Jacob Dementia (CJD)

CJD is sometimes also referred to as mad cow disease. It is a degenerative neurological disorder. It only occurs in around one in a million people, so it is extremely rare. There is no known cure for CJD.

CJD is caused by viruses that interrupt the brain’s normal functioning. Dementia resulting from CJD progresses very quickly.

Symptoms include speech impairment, memory loss, confusion, muscle stiffness and twitching. A lack of coordination can also be experienced which makes the individual susceptible to falls. Blurred vision and hallucinations have also been associated with the condition occasionally.

Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus (NPH)

Normal pressure hydrocephalus occurs when cerebrospinal fluid accumulates in the brain’s cavities. The build-up results from impaired drainage and causes additional pressure to be placed on the brain.

This leaves the brain unable to function normally. Individuals with dementia caused by NPH often experience problems with mobility, balance and bladder control. They also suffer from cognitive impairment affecting their speech, memory and problem-solving abilities.

Huntington’s Disease

Huntington’s disease is an inherited condition that causes progressive dementia. The condition affects the individual’s behavior, movement and cognition.

Individual’s with Huntington’s disease often suffer from impaired judgment, memory problems, depression, mood swings and speech problems – particularly slurred speech. Delusions and hallucinations may also be experienced. There can also be difficulty walking and uncontrollable jerking movements of the face and body.

Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome

Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is caused by a deficiency in Vitamin B1. It often occurs in people who are alcohol dependent, but it can also result from malnutrition or cancers that have spread in the body.

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Abnormally high thyroid hormone levels, long-term dialysis, and long-term diuretic therapy can also result in this deficiency. The symptoms of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome include confusion, permanent gaps in memory, impaired short-term memory and hallucinations.

Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)

Dementia can also be caused by medical illness, medications and a range of other treatable causes. With MCI, an individual will experience memory loss, sometimes with impaired judgment and speech, but they will usually be aware of their decline. These symptoms are mild and don’t often interfere with the normal activities of daily living.

People with mild cognitive impairment can also experience behavioral changes including anxiety, depression, emotional apathy, and aggression. These can be due to the awareness of their condition and the frustration that brings and aren’t necessarily direct symptoms of the disorder.

How Will You Know Which Type of Dementia You Have?

Diagnosing the specific form of dementia that a person is suffering from can be tricky and requires a full review of your health care, family and medical history.

This will include first evaluating whether you might be suffering from anything which could be causing the symptoms of dementia such as depression, substance abuse, nutrition, anemia, vitamin deficiency, diabetes, kidney or liver disease, thyroid disease, infections, cardiovascular and pulmonary problems.

Once these causes have been ruled out, your doctors can go on to further investigate what the cause of dementia may be.

Usually, a physical exam and blood tests will be needed to determine which types of dementia you may have.

You’ll need to find a doctor who is familiar with the complexities of dementia diagnosis. No single test proves Alzheimer’s disease, but it is possible to diagnose with around 90% accuracy.

It can be challenging to diagnose the exact type of dementia in people who only show mild and early symptoms of the syndrome. As the condition progresses, a diagnosis often becomes clear.

Your doctors may use many different approaches to determine which type of dementia you have.

Mini-Mental State Evaluation (MMSE)

This is a very brief evaluation of your cognitive status that is used in diagnosing dementia types.

You will be asked to identify the time, date and place where the test is taking place, to count backward, identify objects previously known to you, to repeat common phrases, perform basic skills involving math, language use, and comprehension and to demonstrate basic motor skills.

Mini-Cog

The mini-cog takes only a few minutes to carry out and is used as an initial screening for different types of dementia.

You will be asked to identify three objects in the office, then draw the face of a clock in its entirety from memory, and finally to recall the three items you identified earlier.

Imaging Tests: CTs, MRIs, and Pet Scans

Doctors can study the structure of your brain by using imaging tests to see if there are any growths, abnormalities or general shrinkage.

Brain function can be studied using a PET scan and a special form of MRI. This can confirm the diagnosis of the specific type of dementia and raise the accuracy of the diagnosis to 90 percent.

The Bottom Line

Whether you have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, coming to terms with your diagnosis may take a long time. You might experience a range of emotions, including anger, shock, and fear, but you might even feel relief at having your symptoms explained.

This is completely normal, and your feelings may change from one day to the next. Your friends and family are also likely to experience a range of emotions and have their difficulties coming to terms with what is happening.

The good news is that these days you can access a wealth of information and support regarding both conditions. This helps you to understand what is happening, find ways to cope and continue to enjoy your life.

Resources

Alzheimer’s Association (Types of Dementia)

Alzheimer’s Society (Types of Dementia)

Alzheimer’s Research UK (Types of Dementia)

Mayo Clinic (Dementia – Symptoms and Causes)

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