That is an excellent question and one that’s been the cause of significant confusion. In some cases they’re used interchangeably and while they are “related,” they are not the same thing.
We’ll explain it a few ways so if one doesn’t make sense, hopefully another will!
Dementia is a symptom, not a condition. You can have dementia and still not have Alzheimer’s Disease, but if you have Alzheimer’s Disease, then you have a form of dementia. So, that brings up the obvious next point…
What is Dementia?
Essentially, dementia is the word that has been used to replace the outdated – and derogatory – term, “senile” or “senility.” Dementia has a number of symptoms that affect the mind adversely. Symptoms like confusion, memory loss, behavioral changes (e.g. mood swings) and general impaired cognition.
The way that I’ve heard it describe, perhaps best, is to think of dementia as a fever. A fever is something that you see/feel, but if you have a fever, it is because something else is causing it.
What is Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia, but interestingly enough, it’s a default diagnosis. I know what you’re thinking, “What on Earth is a default diagnosis?” Don’t worry, I’ve been there. A default diagnosis is essentially when you can rule out everything that it isn’t.
That’s how Frena Gray-Davidson describes it in her book Alzheimer’s 911, she says, “it is what remains after other knowable things have been eliminated – medication, issues, liver tests, blood tests, cancer, and so on.”
Of course, that’s hardly comforting, you’d rather know what the condition is, rather than what it isn’t; that’s why Alzheimer’s is the most commonly diagnosed form of dementia (around 70% of dementia cases).
What is the Difference between Dementia and Alzheimer’s?
As I said above, dementia is a number of symptoms and conditions – not a cause – but in the case with Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), it is the cause as it cannot be anything else.
And, while that is scary to think about, remember that they are putting forth a great deal of research into Alzheimer’s and people are exploring all kinds of preventative measures to keep it from getting worse.
At the moment, there is no cure, so it’s important that we do all we can to keep the condition from worsening.
What are the Other Kinds of Dementia?
Many don’t have specific names, but some include:
- Pick’s disease
- Vascular dementia
- Parkinson’s disease
- AIDs dementia
- Wernicke-Korsakoff’s Syndrome
- Lewy Body disease
- Huntington’s disease
- Normal pressure hydrocephalus
- Frontotemporal dementia
- Mixed dementia
Again, Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form.
But don’t get too fearful of this disease. The fact is, Alzheimer’s is NOT a natural decay of the brain. While we may get less sharp and become more forgetful, that IS normal; it is NOT normal to suffer from dementia or any neurodegenerative condition.
The reason, I say “don’t get too fearful” is because that means there is a legitimate cause, which means there is a cure out there, we just haven’t found it yet.