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    The Difference Between Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia

    November 05, 2020

    November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month. To spread the word, we want to help clarify the difference between the terms “Alzheimer’s disease” and “dementia.” I hear a lot of confusion between these words, but there’s a simple distinction.

    The term “dementia” is a general term that describes a group of symptoms, such as memory loss, increased confusion, and challenges with reasoning. There are a variety of possible causes of dementia. Think of the word “dementia” as an umbrella term, similar to the word “cancer” (which is also a general term that has many different types and causes). 

    Alzheimer’s disease is one cause of dementia. It is the most common cause, making up between 60 - 80% of dementia casesHowever, there are many other causes of dementia, some of which are reversible. Some other causes of dementia could be vitamin deficiencies, thyroid issues, alcohol use, tumors, mini-strokes (also known as transient ischemic attacks or TIAs), to name a few. For this reason, health professionals encourage people who experience cognitive changes to speak to their doctors early.

    While the exact cause of Alzheimer’s disease isn’t completely understood, scientists believe its development is associated with the build-up of abnormal plaques and tangles in the brain. These plaques and tangles interrupt neurons that deliver information to your brain. Eventually, these neurons become damaged and die. The damage begins in the hippocampus, which controls memory, and moves to other portions of the brain over time. This is why Alzheimer’s disease often starts with memory loss and then progresses to affect other cognitive functions such as judgment, reasoning, mood, and balance. Mayo Clinic has put together a very helpful overview of various Alzheimer’s symptoms, which you can access here. If you’d like to see a more visual representation, you can watch this interactive tour of the brain that explains which parts of the brain can cause various symptoms of dementia. 

    If you notice cognitive changes in yourself or someone you love, it’s imperative to find the cause of these changes since they may be reversible, and each type of dementia will evolve in a different way. If you’re not sure what is causing the changes, here's a helpful article about what next steps to take.

    Or, if you were recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, read about how to respond to an Alzheimer's diagnosis here.

    For more details on the differences between Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia, go to www. alz.org.

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