Dementia vs. Alzheimer’s
Here’s the first thing you need to know: how to tell the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Dementia is an umbrella term for symptoms like impaired memory and thinking that interferes with daily living; Alzheimer’s disease is a specific type of dementia. Other types of dementia include vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies, frontotemporal dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and Huntington’s disease.
“Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia – about 60 to 70 per cent of the time, a patient with dementia has Alzheimer’s,” says Dr Richard Isaacson, Director of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. The reason you hear about Alzheimer’s most often is not only because it is the most common type of dementia, but also because the science behind Alzheimer’s is the most advanced across all dementias,” explains Dr Isaacson.
Causes of dementia are vastly different
A medical illness, metabolic issue (like a nutritional or thyroid problem), vascular disease (like a stroke), or, rarely, infectious diseases can affect brain cells, causing dementia. Even mad cow disease, which is very rare, can contribute to dementia, says Dr Isaacson. A condition called depressive “pseudo” dementia is another possible source. As he explains, when levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin run low, you may have trouble paying attention. And when you’re distracted, you have trouble remembering things, which can manifest as dementia.
On the other hand, Alzheimer’s has its own origins. It’s a brain disease marked by deposits of beta-amyloid plaques and proteins called tau that damage cells in brain regions that control functions like thinking, memory, and reasoning.
Multiple factors can be at play
There’s also what’s called mixed dementia, meaning there are multiple conditions that can come together to cause dementia. “Thirty percent of the time, patients who have Alzheimer’s also have a vascular disease that makes cognitive symptoms worse,” says Dr Isaacson. Alzheimer’s and dementia with Lewy bodies (in this disease, clumps of alpha-synuclein proteins develop in the brain) have also been found to occur together.