When someone shows signs of forgetfulness, it’s easy to jump to conclusions. Is it dementia? Alzheimer’s? And what’s the difference? We’ll help you unravel these similar, but different terms. There is often misunderstanding about the difference between Alzheimer’s and the many forms of dementia, but diagnosis and good care depend on having knowledge of these conditions.
Dementia is not a specific disease. It’s an umbrella term, describing a wide range of symptoms. Alzheimer’s, by contrast, is a disease. It’s one type of dementia — in fact, it happens to be the most common one — but it’s not the only one. Not everyone with dementia has Alzheimer’s disease.
The National Institutes on Aging estimates that four to five million Americans currently have some form of dementia, and those forms include:
To diagnose dementia, physicians look for a person to be having a hard time with at least two of the following cognitive functions and behaviors:
2. Communication & speech
3. Focus & concentration
4. Reasoning & judgment
5. Visual perception
Although younger people can and do get Alzheimer’s (known as early-onset Alzheimer’s disease), the symptoms generally begin after age 60. Scientists believe that for most people, Alzheimer’s is caused by a combination of genetics, lifestyle and environmental factors that affect the brain over time.
When Alzheimer’s brain tissue is examined under a microscope, two types of abnormalities emerge that are indications of the disease. These abnormalities aren’t seen in brains without the disease.
While both dementia and Alzheimer’s have some common symptoms, including a decline in the ability to process information, memory and communication impairment, symptoms specific to Alzheimer’s include:
When it comes to diagnosing Alzheimer’s, a doctor can’t say that a person has Alzheimer’s with absolute certainty, but there are things to test to be reasonably sure. These include attention, memory, language, and vision tests, and typically an MRI to look for changes in brain tissue.
Alzheimer’s is not curable, but with early detection, patients can explore treatments that may provide some relief of symptoms and help maintain a level of independence longer. There may also be opportunities to participate in clinical drug trials that help advance research.
On the good news front, scientists are continually investigating ways to stave off and/or treat dementia including Alzheimer’s. In addition, there is a growing body of evidence supporting the efficacy of brain rehabilitation in slowing the progression of these diseases. For example, researchers recently completed a study that found that Constant Therapy is a manageable and effective intervention for people living with dementia. The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Central Florida’s Communication Sciences and Disorders Clinic, and published in Perspectives of the ASHA Special Interest Groups. It concluded that Constant Therapy can help people living with dementia to achieve significant gains in their cognitive and language abilities through a clinician-monitored program tailored to their needs. The app’s easy-to-use interface is manageable for patients and caregivers and allows people with dementia to complete up to 600 percent more exercises at home than in the clinic alone. Just as important, sustained Constant Therapy use can boost users’ sense of confidence and offer hope through the prospect of further improvement.
Press ESC to close
Join the 35,000+ subscribers | Sign up for our weekly email
I had no idea that about 80% of people who have dementia also have Alzheimer’s. My grandmother has been suffering from memory loss recently. I’ll be sure to find someone who can help her with her memory problems.
These are issues that impact so many people these days. We wish you luck with your grandmother.
I appreciate that you brought up how Alzheimer’s disease is typically found in people that are over the age of 65. Ever since my uncle turned 70, he has been unable to remember basic tasks like taking his medication and brushing his teeth. It may be best to seek professional help to help him with his memory.