What Is the Difference Between Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease?

What Is the Difference Between Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease?

In the same way “heart disease” refers to numerous conditions that affect heart function, dementia is a general term that describes a range of issues affecting your cognition (ability to think). Alzheimer’s, on the other hand, is the most common cause of dementia.

Adult neurologist Dr. Andrew Lerman specializes in diagnosing and treating dementia, including that related to Alzheimer’s disease. Read what Dr. Lerman and our Gables Neurology team in Miami, Florida, say about deciphering the differences between dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

Understanding dementia

Dementia is a general term used to characterize a group of symptoms that indicate declines in mental ability. Most of us experience some forgetfulness now and then or lose track of a deadline when our schedules are busy.

However, dementia's symptoms are severe enough to interfere with your daily life. For instance, moderate to severe dementia can make it impossible to remember that you have children, how to drive home from your favorite restaurant, or why you use a computer.

It’s not that you momentarily forgot something. Instead, with dementia, it may seem like that portion of your memory or ability to problem-solve is at least temporarily irretrievable. 

Dementia can also cause changes in behavior, problems with understanding or expressing your emotions, and a general sense of paranoia that may lead to angry outbursts or overwhelming anxiety. 

A closer look at Alzheimer's disease

Alzheimer's disease is a specific type of dementia, accounting for 60-80% of cases. Named after Dr. Alois Alzheimer, who first described the disease in 1906, it's a progressive condition, meaning the symptoms typically develop gradually over years, eventually becoming more severe.

Nerve cell damage in the brain is at the heart of Alzheimer's, accompanied by a continuous decline in memory, thinking, and reasoning skills. This process is associated with the accumulation of proteins in your brain, leading to plaques and tangles that disrupt nerve cell function.

Alzheimer's disease generally follows a progressive pattern where symptoms worsen over time, moving from mild to severe cognitive impairment. While some types of dementia, such as vascular or frontotemporal dementia, can also follow this pattern, others can remain stable over time or even be reversible.

Diagnosing and treating dementia

Dementia can be caused by various conditions, the most common of which is Alzheimer's disease. However, it may also be related to stroke, Parkinson’s, concussion, or other traumatic brain injury. 

Certain medications, vitamin deficiencies, poorly managed diabetes, thyroid disorders, and other chronic conditions can also cause dementia-like symptoms (often reversible).

Thus, diagnosing the underlying cause of dementia is vital when designing your treatment strategy. At Gables Neurology, Dr. Lerman starts with a thorough evaluation, including a careful review of your medical history, symptoms, cognitive and neurological tests, and a physical exam. 

He may also recommend imaging scans, blood tests, and other diagnostic studies to help identify the underlying causes of your symptoms.

Dr. Lerman then develops a comprehensive treatment strategy to fit your needs. Your plan may include medication to slow cognitive decline, supportive problem-solving activities to keep your brain engaged, changes in diet, and ongoing education about dementia and its effects on your quality of life.

Early diagnosis and treatment are key when managing dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. If you’re concerned about dementia-like symptoms or your risk factors, schedule an evaluation with Dr. Lerman today. 

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