Dementia vs. Alzheimer’s
Has one doctor told you that your aging parent has “dementia” while another has referred to the same condition as “Alzheimer’s”? Believe me, you are not alone. To understand the difference let’s talk about dementia first.
“Dementia” refers to a large cluster of symptoms
These symptoms include: short-term memory loss, poor judgment, difficulty performing familiar tasks, etc. When a person develops these symptoms, it is often a sign that something is wrong inside the brain.
A visit to the doctor for testing is a critical first step.
Determining the cause of dementia
Dementia symptoms can be caused by different things and testing helps to pinpoint the cause. Through the process of testing, reversible reasons for the symptoms can be identified and treated such as a vitamin deficiency or even depression.
The #1 cause of dementia
When the symptoms of dementia can’t be explained by a reversible cause, testing turns to the three most common (and irreversible) causes of dementia. The first among these is Alzheimer’s disease which is believed to be responsible for as much as 70% of all dementia.
In these instances, a diagnosis of Dementia of the Alzheimer’s type is given and, for short, many health care providers refer to this as Alzheimer’s. So in some cases, the terms “dementia” and “Alzheimer’s” are one and the same.
The #2 cause of dementia
The second most common cause of dementia accounting for roughly 30% of all cases is high blood pressure. Well, actually it’s high blood pressure and high cholesterol with some extra help provided by diabetes. Are you surprised by this?
The official diagnosis given to the kind of dementia that is caused by high blood pressure and it’s good friends high cholesterol and diabetes is called Vascular Dementia or Multi-Infarct Dementia.
Understanding Vascular Dementia also known as Multi-Infarct Dementia
To have a brain in tiptop shape, blood needs to flow smoothly to and from it. This is what makes high blood pressure (i.e. hypertension), high cholesterol and diabetes so bad. Each one in its own special way, plays a part in making it difficult for blood to flow.
Not unlike the hair that may get stuck in your bathtub drain, fat and other nasty particles can get stuck in your arteries. Over time, this can make it tough for the blood (like the water) to flow smoothly. The more gunk in there, the more likely that a full-on blockage or interruption in the blood flow will occur. When this happens it’s called an infarction. Dementia can result from one too many infarctions…
One significant difference between Alzheimer’s and Vascular Dementia
Depending upon the stage of Alzheimer’s a person is in, medications such as Aricept and Namenda may be used to delay the progression of symptoms. While those with Vascular Dementia can sometimes slow the decline by lowering blood pressure and cholesterol and getting better control over diabetes. Lastly- and this is very important – much of the research suggests that good overall health (among other things!) can help to protect the brain against developing Alzheimer’s and, of course, Vascular Dementia.
The #3 cause of dementia
The third most common cause of dementia is Parkinson’s Disease. To be clear, this doesn’t mean that everyone who has Parkinson’s Disease will develop dementia, but some people do. However, this kind of dementia typically develops during later stages of the illness.
If it is determined that Parkinson’s Disease is the cause of the dementia in your aging parent, the official diagnosis would be: Dementia Due to Parkinson’s Disease.
2) Shop the Alzheimer’s Store for items that make caregiving easier.
3) Read more about Alzheimer’s. There are many other places on this site to do so. A good place to start is the Alzheimer’s page which provides a framework to begin thinking about Alzheimer’s as it relates to your aging parent. From there I would recommend the Get Organized and Planning Care sections too.
4) Ask questions. If you should have any additional questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me. There is no fee for my feedback and no spam.