My friend was relieved that her mother was diagnosed with dementia instead of Alzheimer’s disease. What really is the difference between the two diagnoses?
Dementia is defined as a loss of memory and other mental abilities (e.g., language skills) to the point that it interferes with an individual’s ability to live independently. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia and is gradual in onset and progression.
At autopsy, patients with Alzheimer’s disease have high concentrations of amyloid plaques and what are called “tau tangles” (masses of tau protein) in their brains. These tiny abnormal protein deposits tend to collect in regions that control memory, reasoning, and attention.
Many conditions can lead to dementia. Some are chronic and progressive and have no cure, like frontotemporal or Lewy body dementia or small strokes in the brain. These conditions can be detected by your doctor, who can then better manage the symptoms.
On occasion, a physician will find a reversible cause of dementia, such as a thyroid imbalance, drug side effects, or even depression. That’s why it’s important to see your doctor if memory challenges seem to be interfering with everyday life.
However, most cases of dementia are not reversible. Drugs are available to temporarily treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s dementia, and the sooner patients get started, the better the outcome.
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