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Dementia and Alzheimer’s: Understanding the Difference.

It is quite common to encounter confusion around the use of the words dementia and Alzheimer’s. The most important differentiator is, dementia is an overall term – like heart disease – that covers a wide variety of conditions, including Alzheimer’s. Though not the only type, Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia. Dementia is not considered a disease, while Alzheimer’s is.

Causes of Dementia

Dementia is caused by the brain's physical deterioration. These abnormal changes trigger a decline in thinking skills, also known as cognitive abilities, and can be severe enough to compromise independent function. They can diminish quality of life, affect behavior, feelings and relationships.

Types of Dementia
• Alzheimer’s disease: Alzheimer’s accounts for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases. Early symptoms typically include difficulty remembering recent conversations, names or events. Later symptoms include apathy and depression, compromised communication, poor judgment, disorientation, confusion, and difficulty speaking, swallowing and walking.

• Vascular dementia: Vascular dementia, accounting for about 10 percent of dementia cases, results from blood vessel blockage or damage leading to infarcts (strokes) or bleeding in the brain. The type of brain injury determines how thinking and physical functioning are affected. Initial symptoms include compromised judgment or ability to make decisions, plan or organize, as opposed to memory loss.

• Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB): Accounting for 5 to 50 percent of cases, Lewy body symptoms include sleep disturbances, well-formed visual hallucinations, and slowness, gait imbalance or other Parkinsonian movement features. Memory and thinking problems are also possible.

• Mixed dementia: In mixed dementia, more than one cause of dementia occurs simultaneously in the brain. Recent studies suggest that mixed dementia is more common than previously thought. Most commonly, this type is a mixture of Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia.

• Parkinson’s disease: Parkinson’s disease dementia is a decline in thinking and reasoning that develops in people living with Parkinson’s at least one year after diagnosis. It often results in a progressive dementia similar to DLB or Alzheimer’s. Along with movement issues related to Parkinson’s, symptoms include changes in memory, trouble interpreting visual information, muffled speech, delusions and depression.

• Frontotemporal dementia (FTD): Frontotemporal dementia (or frontotemporal degenerations) refers to a group of disorders caused by progressive nerve cell loss in the brain's frontal or temporal lobes. There are several different diseases that cause FTD and result in disorders that include changes in personality and behavior and difficulty with language.

• Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD): This disease occurs when prion protein in the body destroys brain cells, which results in a rapid decline in thinking and reasoning, as well as involuntary muscle movements, confusion, difficulty walking and mood changes. This type of dementia worsens unusually fast.

Learn what you can do to join the fight against Alzheimer’s disease.

 

For information on Alzheimer’s and Dementia-related illnesses, contact these organizations:

Alzheimer’s Association, (800) 272-3900

Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral Center (ADEAR), (800) 438-4380

Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, (866) 232-8484

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