Alzheimer’s and Dementia. The Same or Different?

Alzheimer's and dementia
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We often hear the medical terms Alzheimer’s and dementia used interchangeably.

This suggests that Alzheimer’s and dementia present the same, but are in really just different medical terms for the same condition.

Is that really so?

Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia.

It affects roughly 60-80% of the people with dementia.

Consequently, it is dementia that is an umbrella term used to describe a group of symptoms that affect memory, communication abilities, and activities of daily living.

According to a recent article in The Advocate titled “Alzheimer’s Q&A: What’s the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia?,” think of Alzheimer’s as a specific disease and dementia as a general syndrome or category.

Alzheimer's and dementia
Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia.

Alzheimer’s typically presents in seniors age 65 and older.

Dementia symptoms can result from other causes that develop earlier in life, like Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, which can show up in middle age or even earlier.

Both Alzheimer’s and dementia can cause memory impairment, language difficulties, as well as cognitive decline.

Common symptoms linked to Alzheimer’s include the following:

  • Difficulty remembering recent events and conversations;
  • Depression;
  • Personality and behavioral changes;
  • Impaired judgment;
  • Trouble speaking; and
  • Confusion and disorientation.

Some causes of dementia will share these symptoms.

However, they include or exclude other symptoms, which can help in making a differential diagnosis.

Alzheimer’s disease is degenerative, incurable, and irreversible.

Unfortunately, while Alzheimer’s is one of the top 10 causes of death, it has no prevention, maintenance, or cure.

Fortunately, approximately 20% of the causes of dementia can be reversed with the proper diagnosis and treatment.

Some the reversible causes of dementia include the following:

  • Vitamin deficiency or metabolic disorder;
  • Normal pressure hydrocephalus;
  • Alcohol or drug abuse;
  • Brain tumors; and
  • HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders.

The process and assessments to land on a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease are typically more complex than other forms of dementia.

A detailed medical history is taken, and other conditions are ruled out as causes for the symptoms.

Brain imaging scans may indicate pronounced brain cell death that is associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s disease can only be completely confirmed after a person passes away.

An autopsy will show the plaques and tangles associated with the disease.

This finding also will exclude other causes.

Whether you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms shared by Alzheimer’s and dementia, be sure to seek a thorough medical evaluation without delay and get appropriate medical treatment started.

While you are at it, get your estate plan up-to-code to avoid incapacity probate as the symptoms progress.

Reference: The Advocate (Nov. 16, 2020) “Alzheimer’s Q&A: What’s the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia?”

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