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What are the Differences Between Alzheimer’s and Dementia?

There is often confusion and misunderstanding with the terms Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and dementia. Here are the facts: The term dementia is described by the American Psychiatric Association as a group of disorders, or “dementias”. Each of these dementias has a number of symptoms or ‘chief complaints.’ Unfortunately, when it is the brain that is injured, it is often very difficult to get an accurate diagnosis. According to the Mayo Clinic, the symptoms of dementia include language difficulty, loss of recent memory or poor judgement. A dementia diagnosis requires symptoms severe enough to interfere with normal daily living and involving at least two brain functions.

Medical reviews indicate that Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) causes as many as 70-80% of all cases of dementia. AD is extremely common in seniors, and approximately 50% of people over age 85 have the disease. AD and dementia are not part of normal aging and get worse over time. AD can occur as early as age 45, whereas dementia usually appears later in life. Some causes of dementia are treatable and even reversible. This was the case for Joan Teats.

The family didn’t really know what was going on or what to do when their mother started to show signs of confusion, difficulty with balance and incontinence. Joan’s physician referred her for a CT scan of her brain, and then to the Neurologist for an evaluation. She was diagnosed with Vascular Dementia, but the cause for the sudden onset was still unknown. Several months later, when she was rushed to the hospital after being revived from a cardiac arrest, the family learned that she had a systemic urinary tract infection (UTI) that caused dementia like symptoms. She still had signs of Vascular Dementia according to the CT scan, but once the UTI was treated, the symptoms of dementia disappeared.

Know The Early Warning Signs:

  • Memory loss that disrupts daily life
  • Challenges in planning or solving problems
  • Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, activities of daily living
  • Confusion with time or place
  • New problems with words in speaking or writing
  • Difficulty completing familiars tasks at work or leisure
  • Changes in mood or personality
  • Withdrawal from work or social activities

Get A Thorough Evaluation

If someone has dementia either due to an underlying cause or AD, it requires accurate diagnosis and treatment by a well-trained health care provider who specializes in degenerative diseases. The Mayo Clinic agrees that with a thorough screening including a complete family history, physical exam, blood tests, a mental evaluation and testing, and sometimes a brain scan, they can accurately diagnose the cause of dementia symptoms in 90% of the cases. Family members, friends and caregivers who are closest to the patient and observing the behavior changes, play a key role in assisting the health care provider to make an accurate diagnosis.

Patty Curtis is co-owner of Eldercaring 760.333.0427. The Alzheimer’s Association, Coachella Valley Regional Office can be reached at 888.328.6767 or visit www.alzla.org

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