People typically don’t know the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s. However, understanding the difference is important. Dementia is a general term for memory loss. Alzheimer’s is the most common condition caused by dementia. In fact, Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60-80 percent of dementia cases. In addition, Alzheimer’s is an actual disease. On the other hand, dementia is an overall term- like heart disease- that covers a range of conditions.
What is Dementia?
Dementia is an umbrella term. It describes a group of symptoms associated with the decline in memory, reasoning, or thinking skills. There are many types of dementia and it is caused by many things. Mixed dementia is a condition in which there are more than one type of dementia prevalent in patients. There are over 400 diseases or types of dementia. Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia are the most common.
Here are some of the most common types of dementia
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Vascular Dementia
- Lewy Body disease
- Fronto-Temporal dementia
- Mixed dementia
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia. It makes up 60-80% of all dementia cases. It develops slowly over many years. Firstly, this disease can start as simply forgetfulness, which can be normal with aging. Early signs usually include difficulty in forming new memories of recent events, difficulty in forming sentences, and problem solving. This is a progressive build-up of abnormal clumps of protein that cause damage to the nerve cells in the brain. Currently there are no cures for this disease, but there are treatments and research is ongoing. The treatments cannot stop Alzheimer’s from progressing, but it can improve the quality of life for those suffering from this disease.
Reduced blood supply to the brain due to diseased blood vessels causes vascular dementia. For example, a patient after a stroke, has reduced flow in major blood vessels in the brain. Then, thinking difficulties may start after this occurs and gradually worsen. Several studies have found that vascular changes and the brain abnormalities that come with these changes, may interact in ways that can lead to a dementia diagnosis. Symptoms of this disease include, but are not limited to:
- Trouble speaking or understanding speech
- Difficulty walking
- Numbness or partial paralysis
Lewy Body Disease
This is a type of progressive dementia that leads to the decline of thinking, reasoning, and independent function due to abnormal microscopic deposits that damage brain cells over time. Lewy Body disease is the 3rd most common type of dementia after Alzheimer’s and Vascular Dementia. This accounts for 5-10 percent of cases. People suffering from Lewy Body dementia usually experience hunched posture, rigid muscles, shuffled walking, and trouble initiating movement. This disease has been linked to Parkinson’s and shares the same underlying abnormalities in how the brain processes the protein alpha-synuclein. Some symptoms of this condition include:
- Changes in thinking or reasoning
- Confusion and alertness varying day-day
- Sleep disturbances
- Memory loss
Progressive nerve cell loss in the brain’s frontal lobes or temporal lobes causes frontotemporal dementia (FTD). Firstly, this causes deterioration in behavior, personality, and difficulty producing and comprehending language. Then, the patient’s dementia slowly worsens. There are a number of different diseases that cause frontotemporal degenerations. However, the two most prominent are 1) a group of brain disorders involving brain disorders involving the protein TAU and 2) a group of brain disorders involving the protein called TDP43. These two groups have a preference for the frontal and temporal lobes that cause dementia, for reasons not yet known. Some symptoms of FTD are as follows:
- Unwillingness to talk
- Change in mood, increased depression
- Lack of social tact
- Obsessive or repetitive behavior
Mixed dementia is a condition in which brain changes of more than one cause of dementia occur simultaneously. The most common kind of mixed dementia is when Alzheimer’s occurs with vascular dementia, similarly, Alzheimer’s is commonly seen with Lewy Body dementia. Sometimes, all three are seen together.
Researchers don’t quite know how many people are living with mixed dementia because there is no way to study it in living people. Autopsies are the only way to figure out which brain changes have occurred. However, symptoms vary depending on the types of brain changes and the brain regions affected.
Symptoms may be similar or indistinguishable from other conditions, such as Alzheimer’s or Vascular dementia or Frontotemporal dementia.
Meanwhile, the research on these diseases are ongoing and extensive. Currently, there is no test to determine if someone has one of these diseases. However, these can be diagnosed based on past medical history. physical exam, and changes in thinking, and day-to-day function and behavior. Certainly, more scientists are currently researching how to help dementia and Alzheimer’s patients