What is the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia? And why does it matter?
People often use the terms Alzheimer’s and dementia interchangeably, but Alzheimer’s disease is actually a specific type of dementia.
Dementia refers to a decline in memory and reasoning that interferes with daily life. There are many types of dementia including vascular dementia, Lewy-body dementia, Pick’s disease, and others. Dementia-like symptoms are also associated with conditions such as Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease.
Since Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, some medical professionals will simply say that a person has Alzheimer’s without investigating the underlying cause to determine the specific type of dementia.
However, it can be useful to know exactly which type of dementia your loved one has. People with different types of dementia can have slightly different symptoms. For example, memory loss is the classic symptom of Alzheimer’s disease. But dementia with Lewy-bodies (DLB) also often includes sleep disturbances and hallucinations. Huntington’s disease is more likely to include changes in personality. And vascular dementia usually starts with disorganized thinking, rather than memory loss.
Knowing what type of dementia you are dealing with can help you know what to expect down the road. It might also affect treatment options for your loved one. You will probably have many conversations with your medical professionals about your loved one’s condition. It’s not always possible to diagnose exactly what type of dementia a person has, but you should feel comfortable asking your medical professionals questions such as:
- What type of dementia do you think this is?
- Why do you think that?
- Would it be helpful to do any additional tests to determine the type of dementia?
- Are you sure this is dementia, not just delirium?
Now that you know the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia, you are better-informed that most people. I hope you can use this information to help advocate for the best possible care for your loved one. Here’s to your success!