“What’s the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s?” It’s a common question, and doctors are some of the best at confusing us. Physicians seem to prefer the word “dementia,” possibly because Alzheimer’s has become such a loaded word. “Dementia” somehow sounds less frightening to many people, and now even the experts have started using the words interchangeably.
They aren’t interchangeable. Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia are two very different things.
Dementia is a symptom. Pain is a symptom, and many different injuries and illnesses can cause pain. When you go to the doctor because you hurt, you won’t be satisfied if the doctor diagnoses “pain” and sends you home. You want to know what is causing the pain, and how to treat it.
“Dementia” simply means the symptom of a deterioration of intellectual abilities resulting from an unspecified disease or disorder of the brain.
Alzheimer’s Disease is one disease/disorder that causes dementia. Many other illnesses or “syndromes” can also cause dementia. Parkinson’s Disease can cause dementia. A stroke can cause dementia. Even dehydration can cause dementia.
If you have taken your elder to the doctor and received a diagnosis of “dementia” you haven’t received a diagnosis at all. Unless you know what is causing the dementia you can’t begin to treat it’s root cause.
The Mayo Clinic has published a great article full of information about dementia:
” Dementia is caused by damage to or loss of nerve cells and their connections in the brain. Depending on the area of the brain that’s damaged, dementia can affect people differently and cause different symptoms.
Dementias are often grouped by what they have in common, such as the protein or proteins deposited in the brain or the part of the brain that’s affected. Some diseases look like dementias, such as those caused by a reaction to medications or vitamin deficiencies, and they might improve with treatment.” (read the full article here: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dementia/symptoms-causes/syc-20352013)
If your physician has diagnosed “dementia” it’s time to dig deeper. Ask your family doctor for an assessment by a geriatrician or a neurologist. A referral to the GEM program if you live in Saskatchewan, Canada, is another way your doctor can help pin point the exact root of the “dementia” diagnosis. Knowing what type of dementia has been diagnosed is information professional care givers can use to create tailored care plans and for families to plan for the future.