Dementia vs Alzheimer’s
March 28, 2017

Many times caregivers are told by a primary care doctor that the loved one they care for has dementia and it is not Alzheimer’s. Dementia as a diagnosis is really not a complete diagnosis. Additionally many PCP’s are often still reluctant to refer a person who has dementia to a neurologist or neuro-psychiatrist who would be able to give a more a comprehensive diagnosis. Caregivers are often told that there is no treatment or cure so it is not worthwhile and would cause the person they care for too much stress. This often leaves caregivers with little guidance or understanding as to what dementia means and how it relates to Alzheimer ’s disease.

The Alzheimer’s Association Family Care Guide offers the following definition for Dementia;

“Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe symptoms of memory loss and other changes in cognitive abilities severe enough to interfere in daily life.”

The Alzheimer’s Association Family Care Guide also defines Alzheimer’s Disease by the following;

“Alzheimer’s Disease is a disease of the brain that is marked by a slow progressive decline or cognitive functioning as brain cells are destroyed by plaques and tangles in the brain.”

There are many diseases and physical conditions that can cause dementia. According to the Alzheimer’s Association; The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s Disease accounting for up to 70 percent of dementia.

Other diseases or conditions that cause dementia are Vascular Dementia, Dementia with Lewy Body, Frontotemporal Dementia, Head or Brain injury.

It is important for caregivers to try to get the most accurate reason possible for their loved ones dementia;

Reasons include;

  1. Better understanding of the disease process or how it is affecting their loved ones behavior and cognition
  2. There are some medications that can be used to treat some types of dementia. If the dementia is not accurately diagnosed these medications can have harmful side effects.
  3. Some types of dementia are treatable. For instance if a loved has a Urinary Tract Infection, the infection can be treated and a person’s cognition may become more stable. Or a low level of B12 can cause confusion and once a person has received needed supplements they are less confused and more like themselves.

It does also help for families to have a more accurate diagnosis early so that they can plan financially and legally for and with their loved one if possible. If diagnosed in the early stages of Alzheimer ‘s Disease, their loved one is more able to fully participate in supports such as support groups and receive education around their diagnosis.

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