Alzheimer's blog

Alzheimer's disease and dementia are different

By Angela Lunde September 27, 2007

My sincere appreciation to all of you who have posted a comment or two on this new blog, I am elated by the rapid interest! Your exchange of stories, ideas, and challenges, along with the compassionate support you are giving one another, is exactly what I hope this blog can provide. As one individual stated, "Your experiences will comfort me."

Know that I will weigh in from time to time on some of the issues that surface, but for this blog, the real experts will be all of you impacted in one way or another by Alzheimer's disease or a related dementia. Each of you can provide a depth of knowledge shaped by your own circumstances; when it comes to a devastating disease like AD, sometimes simply an exchange of experiences is what matters most. I will, however, comment on themes and general issues that emerge and provide links to resources that I think can be beneficial.

For this entry, let me just state that there is often confusion and misunderstanding with the terms Alzheimer's disease and dementia, but there is a distinct difference.

The term dementia refers to a set of symptoms, not the disease itself. These symptoms might include language difficulty, loss of recent memory or poor judgment. In other words, when an individual is said to have dementia they are exhibiting certain symptoms. With a thorough screening including blood tests (to rule out other causes of dementia such as vitamin deficiency), a mental status evaluation, neuropsychological testing, and sometimes a brain scan, doctors can accurately diagnose the cause of the dementia symptoms in 90 percent of the cases. (It is true however, that Alzheimer's can be diagnosed with complete accuracy only after death, using a microscopic examination of brain tissue, which checks for plaques and tangles).

Although Alzheimer's disease accounts for 60-70 percent of cases of dementia, other disorders that cause dementia include: Vascular dementia, Parkinson's disease, dementia with Lewy Bodies and Frontotemporal dementia.

In the early stages of a disease, there can be some clear differences between the diseases. For example, in dementia with Lewy Bodies (the second most common cause of dementia) early symptoms of the disease may not be so much forgetfulness, but lowered attention span, recurrent visual hallucinations, and a fluctuation between periods of lucidity (or clear thinking) followed by periods of confusion. However, as the specific disease advances, more parts of the brain become affected, and the differences from one cause of dementia to another are subtle.

In concluding my entry today, I'd like to pose a question: You may have heard the saying, "When you've met one person with Alzheimer's, you've met one person with Alzheimer's disease." In other words, no two persons are similar in how the disease impacts them. This holds true for caregivers as well. If you have seen how Alzheimer's disease (or related dementia) impacts one caregiver, you have seen how it impacts one caregiver. If you are caring for someone with Alzheimer's disease or a similar dementia, how has it impacted you, more importantly, how do you cope?

Keep posting!

In Support,

Sept. 27, 2007