Is it Dementia or Alzheimer’s disease?

If you or your loved one has been diagnosed with dementia, it is crucial to address the specific type of dementia, as this has relevant diagnostic and therapeutic implications.

Be sure to ask your specialist, is it dementia or Alzheimer’s disease?  There are significant differences between the two and this directly affects a plan of care.

Dementia comes from the Latin word “demens,” which translated literally means “out of the mind.”  In other words, it describes someone whose mind is not working properly.

Dementia is not a disease, but a constellation of symptoms such as memory, language, judgment, executive function, mood and personality disturbances.  These symptoms typically leave the person with severe dementia unable to effectively communicate or interact with others.

Another more recent definition states that “dementia is a progressive brain disorder, severe enough to interfere with social and occupational functioning.”  Dementia can be caused by many conditions other than Alzheimer’s disease. These include:  strokes, Parkinson’s disease, head injury, alcohol, thyroid diseases, vitamin deficiency and infections. One of the primary benefits of a full dementia evaluation is to check for other causes of dementia to determine if there are other potentially reversible types of dementia. It has been proven that anyone can have dementia at any age stemming from a variety of causes that may not always include Alzheimer’s type dementia.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, and because of this, many people utilize these two terms interchangeably. It is a progressive brain disorder that affects multiple domains of brain function including, cognition, memory, language, judgment, and personality.  The diagnosed percentages of various types of dementia reveal that 60% of dementia patients have Alzheimer’s disease, whereas 15% have Lewy Body Dementia, 10% have vascular dementia, and rest is shared among other types, such as Frontal- temporal dementia, head injury related dementia, alcoholic dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and infections such as AIDS and Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease, a form of mad cow disease. Since Alzheimer’s dementia is more prevalent among the elderly, many incorrectly assume any memory problem to be Alzheimer’s type dementia.

It is important to note that while all Alzheimer’s patients have dementia, not all dementia patients have Alzheimer’s disease.  The proper treatment of dementia begins with a full evaluation by a specialist to better understand the specific type of dementia.  This then determines the best treatment plan for the patient.

M. Reza Bolouri, M.D.
Alzheimer’s Memory Center