Knowing the Difference Between Alzheimer’s and Dementia
Jul 14, 2014 - 5:03:00 PM
(HealthNewsDigest.com) - All squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares. Think of dementia as a rectangle, and Alzheimer's as a square. There are many different causes and types of dementia; Alzheimer's is just the most common. There is a general misconception that these two terms, "dementia" and "Alzheimer's," are one and the same-but does that matter? Here's what you should know:
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- There is officially a new name for dementia. As of the latest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for the American Psychiatric Association, the DSM-5, "dementia", is no longer recognized as the umbrella term for the many diseases and disorders causing characteristic symptoms. Instead, doctors and research scientists are to use "major neurocognitive disorder" in place of "dementia." This new name is more descriptive and hopefully will carry fewer stigmas.
- Neurocognitive impairment is not a normal part of aging. Nearly 60% of those polled by the Alzheimer's Association last month believe that getting Alzheimer's is a "fact of life" and is to be expected with age. While cognitive decline does become increasingly probable with age, researchers continue to identify biomarkers that seem to at least be partially responsible for the different diseases that cause neurocognitive impairment. Recognizing that Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative conditions are actually diseases is critical for the motivation, awareness and funding necessary to find cures.
- Some causes of neurocognitive disorders are reversible. Malnutrition, depression, medication side effects and infections are just a few common sources that should be ruled out before you assume that your loved one has a progressive, degenerative disease. This is one of the many reasons why you should get several expert opinions early on, rather than ignoring symptoms.
- Current treatments are oftentimes the same, regardless of the name. Scientists are hard at work finding better treatments, and ideally cures, for diseases such as Alzheimer's, vascular dementia, Lewy body disease, or frontotemporal dementia. Without effective ways to treat the cause of these diseases, they must instead treat the symptoms. Sometimes doctors may be unable to discern from which type of major neurocognitive disorder your loved one suffers. While this may seem frustrating, it helps to understand that the treatment plan would likely remain the same regardless of the exact diagnosis.
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