neuropsychological evaluation

Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease – What’s the Difference?

June is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, a time dedicated to educating individuals about the differences between dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. 

 

We often hear people say that they or a loved one have dementia. However, did you know that dementia is not a standalone diagnosis or disease? 

 

Dementia is actually an umbrella term that describes progressive changes in the brain, leading to symptoms affecting memory, thinking, mood, and social abilities. Dementia is a hallmark process in all neurodegenerative disorders, including:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Lewy Body dementia
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Frontotemporal dementia
  • Vascular dementia

 

These disorders progressively damage nerve cells in the brain, leading to a decline in cognitive abilities, such as reasoning, communication, and memory. The impact of these conditions extends beyond the individual to families and caregivers. 

 

So why are dementia and Alzheimer’s disease used interchangeably? This is likely the case because it is the most frequently diagnosed neurodegenerative disease that involves the cognitive changes seen in dementia. Alzheimer’s disease represents approximately 60-80% of all dementia cases and affects around 6 million Americans as of 2023. This progressive disorder predominantly impacts individuals aged 65 and older, though it could occur earlier or later. Alzheimer’s is a highly complex disorder that gradually impairs memory and cognitive abilities, typically starting with memory issues. 

 

Early symptoms often include:

  • difficulties finding words
  • visual and spatial issues
  • impaired reasoning. 

 

As the disease progresses, unfortunately other changes in the brain and body occur, impacting the ability to independently take care of basic everyday needs such as bathing, eating, dressing and grooming. Because the brain cannot regrow brain cells, or neurons, these changes are irreversible.

 

Realizing that a loved one may be experiencing early symptoms of dementia can be deeply distressing for both the individual and their caregivers. Although there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, some medications can help slow its progression, and a neurologist can help decide which of these medications may be best for you. 

 

Diagnosing Alzheimer’s is a complex process that often involves visits and tests with a neurologist and a neuropsychologist, and these are typically repeated yearly to monitor changes in the brain and daily functioning over time. At Elements, we provide neuropsychological testing to help patients understand how changes in the brain impact a person’s ability to navigate everyday tasks, and provide recommendations and strategies to maintain independence and safety in the home. We also provide psychotherapy for patients and caregivers to help the emotions that may arise as these changes occur, and help plan for any future needs families may have. 

 

Watching yourself or a loved one gradually lose independence and eventually require full-time care can be incredibly challenging. Early detection and understanding can help manage symptoms and prolong quality of life to the fullest extent. Give Elements a call today to learn more about how we can help guide patients and loved ones through these changes.

 

 

Sources:
Alzheimer’s disease fact sheet. (2023, April 5). National Institute on Aging. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/alzheimers-and-dementia/alzheimers-disease-fact-sheet