Q: Can you explain the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s disease?
A: I often get this question from people who are confused about the terms. Dementia is an umbrella term that describes the symptoms of memory loss that are severe enough to interfere with your daily life. Alzheimer’s is a specific disease under the umbrella of dementia.
Dementia is not a normal part of aging. If a doctor tells you that you or a loved one has dementia, you should ask them what type of dementia. They may need to do more tests and a brain scan to be able to differentiate the type, but you have the right to try and understand the specific type.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, and accounts for about 60to 80 percent of all dementias. For this reason, you will often hear the terms interchanged. Other common types of dementia are vascular dementia, which is caused by damage to the vessels that supply blood to your brain, Lewy Body dementia, Frontotemporal dementia, and mixed dementia.
However, there are actually over 100 different types of dementia. Again, dementia just being the general term that means memory loss significant enough to get in the way of daily functioning. It is not a specific disease or diagnosis, the way that Alzheimer’s disease is.
Senior Concerns, in conjunction with the Alzheimer’s Association, is presenting a free seminar over Zoom called Understanding Dementia. It will provide an understanding of dementia, including the signs to look for, the different types of dementia, and what to do if you are a loved one is diagnosed. The seminar will be over Zoom on Tuesday, April 18th at 3pm. Youcan register at https://www.seniorconcerns.org/seminars/.
Symptoms of dementia include a wide range of cognitive issues, not just forgetting things. It can include difficulty concentrating or following tasks. Symptoms can also include poor judgement, which is why people with memory loss are often targeted by scammers and can more easily be the victims of fraud. It may also include changes in mood or personality, and withdrawing from social situations.
If you or a loved one is having any of these symptoms it is important to get checked by your physician. Often, I hear people are scared to ask their doctor and fear a diagnosis. I like to explain to people that are several reasons to understand what is going on physically. For one, there can be many other reasons for the symptoms that may be reversible, such as a vitamin deficiency, medication issue, or a bladder infection.
However if the diagnosis is a type of dementia, knowing early so the person has the ability to be involved in planning and letting their wishes be known for future care, is important. Even understanding the specific type of dementia is helpful in knowing what to expect.
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed,reach out for help, education and support. The Alzheimer’s Association has a 24-hour help line available at 800-272-3900. Despite the name of the agency, they can help with information and resources for any type of dementia.
You can also reach out to your local Caregiver Resource Center by calling the Ventura County Area Agency on Aging at 805-477-7300 or visiting https://www.vcaaa.org/our-services/caregiver-services/
If you or a loved has a diagnosis, know that you are not alone. One in six Californians over the age of 65 will develop dementia. Learning as much as you can about the disease will help you understand what you are seeing, what you can set up to help support your family, and how to handle what the future holds.
Martha Shapiro can be reached at Senior Concerns at 805-497-0189 or by email at email@example.com.