According to the World Health Organization, there are approximately 47 million people around the world living with dementia, with that number expected to increase significantly in the next 30 years. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, with 5 million people in the United States diagnosed with the disease. Often, the terms Alzheimer’s and dementia are used interchangeably, however, there are distinct differences between the two and recognizing those differences is important in helping you and your care partner understand and manage your diagnosis.
What’s the difference?
Dementia is not a specific disease, but a general term that describes a group of symptoms that are associated with trouble with thinking.
Dementia is often thought of strictly as a memory problem, however it really encompasses much more including but not limited to:
- Difficulty planning or solving problems
- Confusion with time and place
- Changes in visual and spatial skills (depth perception, peripheral vision)
- Forgetting or losing things often
- Problems finding words or using the correct words
- Changes in mood or personality
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks
There are many conditions that can cause dementia Alzheimer’s is only one cause.
Alzheimer’s disease is a specific condition that causes dementia.
Alzheimer’s is the most prevalent form of dementia and accounts for about 70 percent of cases. The Alzheimer’s Association reports that every 65 seconds someone in the United States develops the disease. In Alzheimer’s amyloid and tau proteins clump and create plaques and tangles, causing brain cells to die. It takes a long time for enough damage to be noticeable, meaning the process can begin long before someone is symptomatic, this period is referred to as preclinical Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s is categorized in three stages; mild, moderate and severe. The stages are based on the severity in which a person’s thinking problems has progressed. The progression of Alzheimer’s is different for every individual and it is important to note that stages can overlap and last different amounts of time for different people.
Alzheimer’s disease is marked most notably by short term memory issues. The short term memory loss occurs because Alzheimer’s impacts a person’s hippocampus, the area in the brain where new memories are created, making it harder for new information to stick.
Forgetting a date once in a while is not Alzheimer’s disease. However getting lost in a familiar place may be a sign that something more serious is going on. It is incredibly important to see a doctor if your memory loss begins to disrupt your daily life.
“The content of this post is intended for general educational and informational purposes only; it does not constitute medical advice. Readers should always consult with a licensed healthcare professional for diagnosis and treatment.”
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Sarah Harlock, is the Program Director for the DENT Integrative Center for Memory.