What's The Difference?
If you speak to most people with aging parents, you'll find that a great number of them have no understanding of the difference between dementia and Alzheimer's disease. According to Dr. Robert Stern, the director of the Boston University Alzheimer's Disease Center, dementia is a symptom, while Alzheimer's can be a cause of that symptom.
Here's an analogy to help clarify the issue: Think about the word, "fever." Fever speaks to an increase in body temperature. A fever is an indication that someone is ill. But a fever doesn't give us any information that might pinpoint the identity of the responsible illness.
In other words, fever is not a disease. It is only a symptom. The same is true of dementia. In the case of Alzheimer's disease, dementia is just one symptom manifested by this disease.
Dementia can be caused by many conditions. Some of these conditions are reversible. However, the unfortunate truth is that in 70%-80% of all cases, Alzheimer's is the primary cause of dementia. Alzheimer's cannot be reversed. Even harder to take in is the fact that Alzheimer's is a fatal condition.
Dementia is a modern term that has come to be used instead of less precise words and terms such as senility or second childhood. Some people think that dementia is a normal factor in the aging process, but this idea is incorrect. Signs of dementia should be explored and the cause determined. Some causes of dementia can be cured if caught in the earliest stages. Don’t assume that dementia is par for the course and that nothing can be done.
Now that we know that dementia is a symptom, what do we need to know about this symptom? The most prominent characteristic of dementia is loss of memory. After memory loss, there is a decline in other cognitive skills, for instance attention span, language, motor skills, and decision-making.
The fight for more research and a subsequent cure for Alzheimer's begins with educating the public to all the disabilities that come with the disease. But physicians also need to learn more about Alzheimer's. Physicians have become very quick to diagnose Alzheimer's without having ruled out reversible causes of dementia.
The most important thing to know about both dementia and Alzheimer's disease is that the first step must be to obtain a correct diagnosis. Once there is a diagnosis, the patient can be started on the proper course of treatment or therapy, and the family can begin to plan and prepare for what the future holds before the future arrives.