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EOFAD 101 : Dementia & Alzheimer's disease

Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are terms and disorders often (and confusingly) used interchangeably. This article helps to clarify the distinct differences between dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Introduction

Dementia is diagnosed when a person experiences significant cognitive and thinking impairment, such as memory loss, that impacts that person’s daily life. Dementia is the overall (or umbrella) term used to describe a group of brain diseases or other conditions. In addition to memory loss or decline, dementia symptoms also include: problems in thinking or reasoning, poor judgment, decreased focus/attention, and changes in language and communication. 

 

There are several different causes of dementia. Neurologists often describe dementia as an umbrella term (see below), because of the many different causes of dementia. In addition to Alzheimer’s disease, other causes of dementia include: Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) or Lewy Body Dementia (LBD), Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD), vascular dementia, Parkinson’s disease (PD), and Huntington’s disease (HD). Alzheimer’s disease is the most common and the most well-known cause of dementia. However, early-onset familial Alzheimer’s disease represents less than 1% of all Alzheimer’s disease cases.

There are other non-neurological disorders that can also cause dementia. These include: alcohol-related dementia, thyroid disorder, vitamin B12 deficiency, HIV, and brain tumors. It is important to mention that these types of dementias are potentially reversible. Thus, it is important to rule out any of these possible contributors (such as thyroid or B12 levels) during an Alzheimer’s disease or dementia diagnosis work-up.

What is dementia?

The difference between dementia and normal age-related cognitive decline in memory (such as forgetting keys, where you parked, etc.) is that dementia involves symptoms that impact a person’s ability to perform normal daily life activities independently, such as bathing, dressing, and eating.

What's the difference between dementia & normal aging?

Alzheimer’s disease is a specific brain disease that causes dementia and its associated symptoms. Alzheimer’s is a disease whereas dementia is a symptom of the disease.

What's the difference between dementia & Alzheimer's disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disease - meaning people progressively lose brain cells (also known as neurons) as the disease develops. The most common features or classic hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease (used to make a definitive diagnosis) is the presence of clumps of two different proteins in the brain, beta-amyloid and tau. Beta-amyloid clumps together to create amyloid plaques and tau protein clumps together to create neurofibrillary tangles. Scientists believe that the presence of amyloid plaques and tau tangles cause damage to the neurons in the brain. When neurons are damaged, they can no longer help the brain do its job. This is what we call neurodegeneration, making thinking, memory, understanding language, planning, and speaking difficult.

What is Alzheimer's disease?