It’s important to know the distinctions between dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The rates of individuals diagnosed with dementia and Alzheimer’s in the general population are both rising. But be clear that the terms are not synonymous.
In brief, dementia is a syndrome or group of symptoms that causes loss of intellectual function and usually progresses over time. Alzheimer’s is the leading cause of dementia and the one we hear about the most.
In other words, not all people who are diagnosed with dementia have Alzheimer’s disease.
To explore it a bit further, consider that according to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, dementia is the “deterioration of intellectual faculties, such as memory, concentration and judgment, resulting form an organic disease or a disorder of the brain. It is sometimes accompanied by emotional disturbance and personality changes.”
There are conditions besides Alzheimer’s, such as depression, that also will cause dementia symptoms. Careful diagnosis of any dementia is essential in determining proper treatment and intervention.
Some types of dementia are reversible, including: Parkinson’s disease, vascular dementia (stroke), Pick’s disease, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, Huntington’s disease, Wilson’s disease, Lewy body dementia, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, frontotemporal dementia and Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (alcohol-related dementia)
Possible causes of reversible dementia include: depression, drug use, alcohol and other poisons, nutritional deficiencies, brain disorders, certain diseases, a metabolic condition, organ dysfunction, traumatic brain injury, brain tumor, hydrocephalus, syphilis, encephalitis and meningitis.
Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible dementia condition. However, with appropriate interventions, even irreversible dementias can be managed. Family caregivers should seek reliable education and other assistance wherever possible. A good place to start is the doctor’s office, which typically has resources to get families started with this difficult process.
For more information on the different types of dementia, visit any of these websites:
- The Mayo Clinic (http://www.mayoclinic.com)
- The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (http://www.ninds.nih.gov)
- The National Alzheimer’s Association (http://www.alz.org) — look under “related dementias”
- Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral Center (ADAR) (http://www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers)
- Web MD (http://www.webmd.com/alzehimers/guide/alzehimers-dementia)
- FamilyDoctor.org (http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/seniors/mental-health/662.htlml)