Many people talk about Alzheimer’s and dementia interchangeably, so it should come as no surprise that there’s a lot of confusion when it comes to the differences between the two. They both involve a decline in mental faculties, including memory, communication, and the ability to perform daily tasks. That said, Alzheimer’s and dementia are not interchangeable, so we’re going to go over the differences between them.
Syndrome vs Disease
Dementia is a broad term that is used to describe a wide range of diseases and symptoms, and it can be caused by a variety of conditions – Alzheimer’s just happens to be the most common one.
Alzheimer’s is short for Alzheimer’s Disease, and while it is a form of dementia, dementia itself is not a disease – it’s a syndrome. While patients need a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, there is no diagnosis of dementia. Dementia is defined as a group of symptoms that affect the person’s mental faculties, but there is no definitive diagnosis of dementia.
Although dementia and Alzheimer’s are both associated with old age, young and middle-aged people have been known to show symptoms of both dementia and Alzheimer’s. It’s also important to remember that neither one is considered a normal part of aging.
People can have more than one type of dementia at one time. This is known as mixed dementia, and is usually caused by the person having multiple conditions that contribute to dementia. Unlike Alzheimer’s, mixed dementia can only be diagnosed by autopsy.
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s vs. Dementia
Alzheimer’s and dementia have some symptoms in common, which is the main reason people tend to get them confused. They both involve impaired mental faculties, particularly when it comes to memory and communication, and they can both lead to behavioral changes, often fueled by confusion and frustration.
But Alzheimer’s has some symptoms that dementia does not, mostly pertaining to mood swings and behavioral changes. However, in the most advanced stages of Alzheimer’s, patients can lose the ability to walk, speak, and even swallow as the parts of their brain that control those motions decay, which does not happen with dementia.
Causes of Alzheimer’s vs. Dementia
One of the biggest differences between Alzheimer’s and dementia is their causes. While Alzheimer’s is largely genetic, dementia can be caused by a combination of genetics and/or an infection, such as HIV, metabolic disorders/hypoglycemia/tumors, depression and/or chronic drug use, and vascular disease and/or stroke.
Because dementia and Alzheimer’s have different causes, the treatments for each depend on what’s causing the problem. There is some overlap in the way they’re both treated, but there are also some key differences.
There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s, although there are drugs to treat the symptoms, namely antipsychotics, drugs to help with the memory loss, sleep, and depression and mood swings. Alternative treatments include fish oil or coconut oil, both of which have been shown to boost overall cognitive function.
Some forms of dementia can be cured, depending on the cause. If the cause is genetic, as with Alzheimer’s, then there isn’t much hope (yet). If, on the other hand, the dementia is caused by something else, then treating the root cause often does result in improved symptoms of dementia. Tumors, hypoglycemia, drug use, and metabolic disorders are some of the causes of dementia that respond best to treatment.
If you have any other questions about Alzheimer’s or dementia, we’re happy to help.
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