Dementia and Alzheimer’s: Related But Not the Same

What is Dementia? Is it the same as Alzheimer’s?

This is a question frequently asked.  The terms dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are frequently interchanged in the medical community and in written articles, so it is understandable that people would think they are the same thing.  But they are not the same.  Knowing what dementia is can be a helpful step in understanding this condition.

Dementia is an umbrella term, a general term covering many different diagnosis.  In fact, there are over 75 types of dementia. The term dementia refers to a group of symptoms that affects functioning in everyday life.  Symptoms can include memory loss, impaired judgement, difficulties with language and attention, and personality changes.

A complete neurological assessment can often define the type of dementia. Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia, accounting for about 60% of cases. Other types of dementia include Lewy body dementia, frontotemporal dementia, dementia from Parkinson’s disease and vascular (or stroke-related) dementia. Some types of dementia are reversible, such as a metabolic imbalance or a medication-related effect.

It is helpful to know the type of dementia, as the symptoms and treatment can vary for the different types. For instance, patients with Lewy body dementia often experience visual hallucinations.  Patients with frontotemporal dementia are often younger than those with Alzheimer’s disease and often have significant changes in their personality and behavior. However, often there are common symptoms that are seen across many types of dementia, although how each person is affected will be unique.

You may tell others that your loved one or friend has dementia, but to help increase awareness of the differences, go one step further and tell them what type of dementia the person has. Knowledge is power, so knowing the meaning and use of the term dementia can be helpful in your own understanding and when talking to others.