Dr. Cheryl Woodson

Woodsonian Informational Thoughts on Thursday. What’s the Difference Between Alzheimer’s and Dementia?

Many families say, “The doctor said, ‘it’s only dementia.’ Thank God, it’s not Alzheimer’s.” They breathe sighs of relief, but they shouldn’t. Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is one of many types of dementia, just like apples, strawberries, and bananas are types of fruit. You can have a strawberry-banana smoothie (different types of dementia can coexist,) but one form never turns into another, and none are more, or less dangerous than the others.

What is Dementia?
The term describes a change in cognition (memory and other brain functions) that:
REPRESENTS A DECLINE– There is a significant decrease in the level of brain function, compared to the person’s usual state.
IMPAIRS FUNCTION – The person demonstrates poorer performance in the activities of daily living that support independence.
DEMONSTRATES A NORMAL SENSORIUM (LEVEL OF AROUSAL) – doctors cannot diagnose dementia in someone who is too sleepy, or too agitated for testing.

Dementia is also:
GLOBAL – Memory is not the only problem. At least some other areas of brain function are involved, for example, complex thinking, judgment, speaking and understanding language, and visuospatial skills (including the ability to see things in three dimensions, judge distance, recognize edges, and understand other spatial relationships.)
PERSISTENT – Mom may have good days and bad days, but even at her best, her memory and function are always worse than when she was healthy.
PROGRESSIVE – The condition always gets worse. Over time, Dad’s good days are fewer, and they are not as good; his bad days get worse, and they are more frequent.
IRREVERSIBLE– We have no cure for dementia. You may hear the term “reversible dementias,” which usually describes a potentially curable illness, masquerading as dementia. The term “delirium” describes cognitive problems due to infections, medications, toxic substances, and abnormal blood values. The condition usually alters the level of arousal, but improves when doctors treat the underlying problem. Depression can mimic dementia because it clouds concentration and produces apathy; people don’t care enough to try, so testing may be inaccurate.

Understand these 4 Important Facts.
#1 AD and other dementias are NOT normal aging.
There is no such thing as “senility.” Dementia is related to aging, but it is not a required outcome of getting older. If a senior develops a sudden change in memory, there is a good chance that dementia is not the cause. We need to investigate for treatable illness because
#2 Dementia is a serious, terminal illness.
Despite all of the research and advertising, there is not yet any treatment that reverses, stops, or changes the outcome of dementia. AD and other dementias are terminal illnesses. People die of dementia.
#3 If you see something, say something, and do something, NOW!
If you suspect brain problems, take it seriously and get help now. There are excellent treatments for depression. Untreated delirium can cause permanent damage. If the problem is dementia, early information and care planning can shield seniors and families from physical, financial, and emotional disaster.
#4 You are not alone.
Click on CAREGIVER RESOURCES to find some of the organizations, support groups, and books that guide you towards the best care for your loved one and yourself. You can also find webinars and seminars in your community. Become an activist by working with organizations that advocate for more effective eldercare legislation, and learn about opportunities to participate in cutting-edge research that works toward a cure.
Join me NEXT WEEK for
Musings on Monday: Living Grief and Another Kind of Widow
Wisdom on Wednesday: Guest Dr. Darby Morhardt talks about AD research
Thoughts on Thursday: How Do People Die of Dementia and How Do I Find Out if Someone Has It?

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