What is the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s disease? Often times, people use both terms interchangeably but there is, in fact, a profound difference. In fact, Alzheimer’s is but one of four types of dementia. 

Alzheimer’s Disease 

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, degenerative condition that attacks the section of the brain controlling thought, language, and memory. By far the most well-known type of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, accounts for nearly 70% of all dementia cases. Experts believe that Alzheimer’s develops as a result of complex sequences influenced by multiple factors such as environment, genetics, and lifestyle. The most common marker of Alzheimer’s disease is the buildup of plaques and tangles in the brain, leading to cell death and tissue loss.

The following symptoms could be indicative that your loved one may have Alzheimer’s disease:

  • Memory loss that interferes with daily life, such as forgetting important dates or recently learned information
  • Difficulty completing familiar tasks, such as driving to familiar locations
  • Difficulty with speaking or writing
  • Withdrawal from social activities, favorite hobbies, and interactions from friends and family
  • Changes in mood and personality, such as increased irritability, anxiety, or confusion
  • Increasingly poor decision-making skills

Keep in mind that just because your loved one misplaced their car keys, does not necessarily indicate they have Alzheimer’s disease.

Vascular Dementia 

Vascular dementia, or “post-stroke dementia,” is a general term that refers to cognitive decline caused by brain damage from improper blood supply in the brain. Vascular dementia is the second most common form of dementia, accounting for up to 30 percent of all dementia cases. In contrast to Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia develops as a result of a large stroke or a series of mini-strokes that block a brain artery. Not all strokes lead to vascular dementia, however, and some strokes do not cause any noticeable symptoms. In any case, the risk of vascular dementia increases with the number of strokes. Vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease often occur together, leading to what’s referred to as “mixed dementia”.

Unlike other forms of dementia, vascular dementia may be preventable if your loved one takes steps to lower their risk of stroke. These steps include:

  • Maintaining a normal, healthy blood pressure
  • Preventing, treating or controlling diabetes
  • Keeping body mass index at a normal range of under 25
  • Lowering cholesterol
  • Quitting smoking
  • Exercising regularly

Lewy Body Dementia (LBD) 

Lewy body dementia refers to a decline in memory, reasoning, and motor skills caused by the buildup of clumps of proteins known as “Lewy bodies” in the brain. After Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia is the third most prominent form of dementia.

In contrast to Alzheimer’s disease, people with Lewy body dementia exhibit symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease in the early stages. These symptoms include:

  • Difficulty moving or losing the ability to control movements
  • A hunched posture and balance issues
  • Visual hallucinations or delusions
  • Significant memory loss
  • Acting out dreams, oftentimes violently
  • Confusion and alertness that varies significantly from one day to the next

Researchers have identified two main types of Lewy body dementia: Dementia with Lewy bodies and Parkinson’s disease dementia. In dementia with Lewy bodies, the dementia symptoms and movement symptoms occur simultaneously at the time of diagnosis. With Parkinson’s disease dementia, the onset of dementia symptoms does not appear until a few years after the onset of Parkinson’s-based movement symptoms.

Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD) 

Also known as frontal lobe dementia, frontotemporal dementias are rare disorders that affect parts of the brain associated with personality, behavior, and language. Pick’s disease, the most common type of frontotemporal dementia, occurs when the brain’s temporal and frontal lobes shrink. As the fourth most common type of dementia, frontotemporal dementia accounts for about 10 percent of all dementia cases. 

Frontotemporal dementia most prominently affects behavior and language and is usually characterized by the following symptoms:

  • Loss of inhibition, leading to increasingly inappropriate social behavior such as violent outbursts or sexual aggressiveness
  • Lack of awareness of behavioral changes
  • Apathy or loss of motivation
  • Loss of empathy and other social skills
  • Repetitive, compulsive behavior 

Only a medical professional can determine which dementia your loved one has. A swift diagnosis will help determine a plan of action that will be most effective for your loved one’s needs and help keep the progression of the dementia at bay, preserving independence and their ability to function to their fullest potential.

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