In order to explain what is the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s one first needs to know what dementia is. Dementia is the deterioration of our cognition. In Latin it means ‘ apart mind’ – that your mind is losing its grip of your body. Dementia is an ongoing problem and in a few years it will be a huge social problem as the average age of people in the Western world is increasing and with that, so is the incidence of dementia.
It is important to understand that dementia is a syndrome and not a disease on its own. A syndrome is a collection of possible symptoms that together make the syndrome. For instance, demented people could have symptoms of Amnesia, Apraxia, Apraxia of speech, behavior problems, speech impairment, orientation problems and many more. Of course one does not need to have all these symptoms to qualify for dementia.
Dementia is a non-specific syndrome that targets different areas on the brain. For this reason there are many different symptoms associated with dementia. Typical areas of the brain that are affects are: communication, memory, orientation, problem solving and attention. We speak of dementia when someone has significant memory loss plus another impairment that both cause social disfunction. But dementia is not a disease in itself – it is a syndrome with a variety of causes of which Alzheimer is one.
Alzheimer disease is characterized by the appearance of plaques and tangles in the brain. You can find these tangles and plaques in every aging brain but in people with Alzheimer disease there is an abnormal quantity. These plaques and tangles interfere with the functioning of our brain on different areas on the brain. Therefore Alzheimer is also called pathological rapidly aging of the brain.
So the exact difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s is that dementia is a non-specific syndrome and Alzheimer is a specific disease. Many people cannot explain the difference and this is probably because Alzheimer is the most prominent cause of dementia. Almost 70% of all people with dementia have the type of Alzheimer. Other causes of dementia are stroke, Parkinson, Lewy body disease, Fronto-temporal dementia, Huntington and even Aids/HIV.
But is it important to know what type of dementia patients have? Indeed it is – although there is a large variety of symptoms between all types of dementia, every type is characterized by certain specific symptoms. Lewy Body Disease (LBD), for instance, comes with hallucinations and delusion. It is very important to know if it is Lewy Body causing the hallucinations because, although the primary treatment for hallucinations would be Haldol, it is dangerous to give this to people with LBD. Other differences are that dementia caused by stroke often results in a stable cognitive situation whereas Alzheimer is very progressive.
In summary, there are many types of Dementia and Alzheimers is just one of them. So when you have a relative or a friend diagnosed with Dementia it does not always have to be Alzheimer disease. Your doctor and psychologist are specialized in finding out what is the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s. Their professional examination often results in a correct diagnosis.