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Dementia Or Alzheimer's - Which Is Correct?

Aug 17, 2007
We've been hearing about Alzheimer's disease for years, thanks to great awareness campaigns, but now the new word out there is dementia, and the two terms often seem to be seen hand in hand. Many people don't like the sound of the word dementia and those that have loved ones or family members who have received the dementia diagnosis prefer to pass it off as Alzheimer's. Is there really any difference between Alzheimer's and dementia, and if so, what is it?

Society's perception of dementia, however, is a negative one, and people tend to shy away from using the word. The disorder's word association and common image is one of an old person's illness, one that holds images of insanity and poverty or losing one's mind. Awareness of the true meaning of dementia is underway, but there is a long, long way to go before people can feel at ease around the term and accept it as a normal occurrence in a human's lifespan.

Are The Two Illnesses The Same Thing?

One thing is quite certain, though, dementia and Alzheimer's are not interchangeable words and they mean very different things for the person having a diagnosis of one or the other. Family members, when faced with a loved one's diagnosis of dementia, often purposely mislead friends and acquaintances by claiming Alzheimer's when the truth is something quite different.

Alzheimer's disease is caused by deterioration of neurons in the brain that produce chemical messengers and an accumulation of plaques of dead tissue. Dementia is brain damage caused by minute strokes, infection, tumors or progressive diseases. What's important to remember is that whereas Alzheimer's disease is an actual disease, dementia is a syndrome or a group of symptoms.

Differentiating the Disorders

Is it possible to recognize the differences between Alzheimer's disease and dementia? Yes, it is, though the task can be difficult for those who aren't sure what to look for. At face value, dementia and Alzheimer's disease both cause people to have trouble with memory or recognizing familiar objects, a drop in planning and organization skills and social functioning impairment. But as two distinct illnesses, there are some differences.

Alzheimer's disease sufferers display classical symptoms that are easily recognizable. Many people who have had to live with an Alzheimer's sufferer are able to point out the symptoms in others very easily, just by noticing a telltale quirk or action of that person. One of the most common symptoms of Alzheimer's disease is confusion, which causes the sufferer to use behaviors such as confabulation (making stories up when caught), reactions such as running away and trying to escape from their home or hospital, or not knowing familiar people such as loved ones or children. As the disease progresses, Alzheimer's patients 'forget' more and more, such as how to dress or wash, or how to eat; and eventually the sufferers are confined to their beds.

Dementia sufferers 'forget' as well, but in a more general fashion, such as forgetting where they left their keys, or putting them in the sugar bowl instead of on the hook. They may make judgment errors, such as choosing a bathing suit to wear outside when a sweater is more appropriate. They may forget names, but recognition for people in general is better. The behaviors and reactions of a dementia sufferer may make other people wonder, but there is no typical pattern of behavior to dementia in general, as it doesn't have one specific cause - different brain damage causes different behaviors.

Dementia does not necessarily follow the same rate of decline in cognitive ability as Alzheimer's disease. Whereas Alzheimer's disease ultimately results in death within a few years, people diagnosed with dementia can live a very long time at a generally stable level of forgetfulness. Medication can ease symptoms of both diseases and make symptoms easier to cope with for both sufferers and caregivers, but, unfortunately, neither disorder can be cured.
About the Author
Andi Michaels writes regularly for Alzheimers And Dementia where you can read many more articles on Alzheimers disease . Also go to Alzheimers and Dementia for a range of informative articles on Alzheimers symptoms and much more.
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