“’To be called dementia, the disorder must be severe enough to interfere with your daily life,’ says Constantine George Lyketsos, M.D., director of the Johns Hopkins Memory and Alzheimer’s Treatment Center in Baltimore.”
The terms “dementia” and “Alzheimer’s” have been around for more than 100 years. That means people probably have been getting the two terms confused for a century.
However, understanding the difference between dementia vs. Alzheimer’s is important. AARP explains this in its June article, “Dementia vs. Alzheimer’s: Which Is It?” While Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia (accounting for an estimated 60 to 80% of cases), there are several other types. The second most common form is called vascular dementia. This form has a very different cause, which is high blood pressure. Other types of dementia include alcohol-related dementia, Parkinson’s dementia and frontotemporal dementia. Each type also has different causes. In addition, certain medical conditions can cause serious memory problems that resemble dementia.
The right diagnosis means the proper medicines, remedies and support. Correctly identifying Alzheimer’s, instead of another type of dementia, may result in a prescription for a cognition-enhancing drug rather than an antidepressant. A patient may also be eligible to participate in a clinical trial for Alzheimer’s, if he or she has been specifically diagnosed with the disease.
Dementia is a nonreversible decline in mental function. It’s a catchall phrase that encompasses several disorders that cause chronic memory loss, personality changes or impaired reasoning. Alzheimer’s disease is just one of them.
Alzheimer's is a specific disease that slowly and irreversibly destroys memory and thinking skills. There’s no cure. However, researchers have identified biological evidence of the disease: amyloid plaques and tangles in the brain. They can be seen microscopically, or more recently, using a PET scan that employs a newly discovered tracer that binds to the proteins. The presence of these proteins can also be detected in cerebral spinal fluid, but this method isn’t used often in the U.S.
Dementia is diagnosed by a doctor who must find that you have two or three cognitive areas in decline. These areas include disorientation, disorganization, language impairment and memory loss. To make that diagnosis, a doctor or neurologist will administer several mental-skill challenges.
There’s no definitive test for Alzheimer's. Physicians usually rely on observation and ruling out other possibilities. This guessing game is still used today in diagnosing the disease. It’s accurate between 85 and 90% of the time. The new PET scan may be 95% accurate, but it’s usually only recommended to identify Alzheimer’s in patients who have atypical symptoms.
Reference: AARP (June 25, 2018) “Dementia vs. Alzheimer’s: Which Is It?”