The Difference between Dementia and Alzheimer Disease

There is much confusion about what the difference between  Dementia and Alzheimer disease is.  Many believe they are the same same thing, when in-fact they are not.  Dementia is a side effect/symptom of alzheimer disease.

Alzheimer disease can only be 100% diagnosed after death when the brain tissue is carefully examined by a neuropathologist during an autopsy.  With advancing knowledge and research, specialists are able to give a highly probable diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.

Both illnesses Rob a Person of their Memory, Personality and Dignity…


What is Dementia?

Dementia causes brain damage and includes a set of symptoms such as memory loss, difficulty with thinking, problem solving and language.  Dementia is not an age related condition and can come on at any age.
The most common time for dementia to start is after the age of 65, for both men and women. Depending on what part of the brain is effected, depends on what type of symptoms the individual will have. Alzheimer”s disease is the most common cause of dementia, but not the only cause.

Causes include…

  •  Alzheimer’s disease
  • Stroke
  • History of taking street drugs or alcohol abuse
  • Lack of thyroid hormone
  • Head injury
  • Lewy Body disease
  • Various neurodegenerative diseases
  • For a full list and explanation of these causes – View here

Symptoms of dementia:

Each person will experience dementia in their own way, particularly at the beginning .  The symptoms of dementia can vary from person to person, depending on what part of the brain is damaged and what the cause of their dementia is.

Due to the memory & thinking being effected a person with dementia is likely to show signs of:

  • Day to day memory recall effected.  Not able to recall what they have done recently or events that have taken place recently.  Often just having memories of the current moment. Difficulty making decisions or problem solving.
  • Concentration levels low –  Not able to plan or organize tasks or carry out a series of tasks, such as making a meal or getting washed and dressed upon awaking in the morning.
  • Language – Difficulty following a conversation.  Difficulty expressing ones self eg: forgetting words.
  • Coordination – Visuospatial skills – Problems judging distances and seeing objects in a three-dimensional format . Eg: May often misjudge the stairs or overfill a cup of water, have trouble recognizing objects or people etc.
  • Orientation – Loosing track of the time, day or date.  Suddenly forgetting where they are or how they got there.
  • Mood changes –  Can suddenly become frustrated, irritable, anxious, withdrawn, easily upset or unusually sad.
  • Behavioral changes – Repetitive questioning, pacing, sleep disturbance.

Some types of dementia include:

  • Visual hallucinations – See things that are not there.
  • Delusions –  Believe things that are not true.

Dementia is progressive and the symptoms gradually get worse as time goes on. In the later stages it is not uncommon for the sufferer to have physical symptoms, such as weak muscles, change in sleep patterns, loss of appetite and weight.

 Testing for Dementia

There are no set tests for dementia. A series of tests are done during the diagnosis to rule out other conditions. These tests include:

  • Cognitive testing of mental abilities for memory and thinking.
  • Taking a history –  Often a doctor will get a history of how the problems developed and how it effects you now.  Usually this is done with a person that knows you very well, participating in the consultation.
  • Physical examination – To rule out other diseases or conditions.
  • Blood tests.
  • A brain scan.

The earlier a diagnosis is done, the more chances there will be to slow the symptoms down with various treatments. This will also give you time to plan your future.

NOTE:  Some family doctors run limited tests when diagnosing an individual for dementia.  It is important to get a full diagnosis done, which includes a series of thorough tests – that are often performed by specialist doctors.

By doing this, it could well turn out that the symptoms are mimicking dementia, and could in-fact be caused by a treatable condition, such as vitamin B12 deficiency, poor nutrition etc.  Certified Dementia Consultant Carole B Larkin explains in the video below…


Treatments vary as a lot depends on what the cause of the individuals dementia is.  Many of the treatments help to slow the effects down, but sadly they do not cure  this condition. Research is progressing all the time to find a cure.
Dr Torbinick at the Institute of Neurological Recovery has come up with a technique using etanercept via injection, to reverse the effects of dementia.  Although his technique doesn’t work on everyone, it rapidly reverses the effects of dementia  for most.  His treatment is seen by many doctors as unorthodox, but the patients don’t agree.


What is Alzheimer Disease?

As at 2014 there is no conclusive cause of Alzheimers’ disease or reasons of how it begins. Many professionals believe it is a combined result of genetics, lifestyle and environmental factors that effect the brain over time. One thing that does stand out in those that suffer with Alzheimers’ disease, is it damages and kills brain cells.

As more and more brain cells die, the brain begins to shrink. At this point a look under a microscope shows two prominent abnormalities contributing to this disease:

(1)  Plaques
Plaques are clumps of protein called beta-amyloid in the brain, that are believed to cause cells to die resulting in interference with cell to cell communication.
(2) Tangels
Brain cells rely on an internal transport system to transport nutrients and material to the cell extensions in the brain.  This system requires a normal structure and functioning of a protein called Tau.
In those with Alzheimer’s, threads of tau protein twist into abnormal tangles inside brain cells, causing failure in the transport system.


The Alzheimer Journey – The link between Brain and Behavior

(This video from the Alzheimer Society gives a good summary of what happens…
To the brain and individual with Alzheimer’s disease.)

Alzheimer disease is the leading cause of dementia, and can only be 100% diagnosed after death. With research advancing all the time, doctors can now give a highly probable diagnosis of Alzheimer disease.

Having a good understanding of what Alzheimers disease and dementia is, and what to expect should you or a loved one become effected, results in a better quality of life for both the sufferer and the carers. It is also important to have a plan in place should anything happen to the main carer.

Without a plan in place, the sufferer is often placed into care far sooner than need be. There is a lot of help available for sufferers and their families. I have included some of them below.

Article written by Wen Dee


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