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When it comes to distinguishing between Alzheimer's and dementia, there is a lot of overlap between these two conditions but there are some subtle differences that can make a big difference on the treatment and prognosis available to you.

When it comes to Alzheimer's disease, if you have done any research on your own, there is a good chance you came across the connection between Alzheimer's and dementia. These are terms that are often considered to be synonymous with each other in the colloquial sense, but medically-speaking, there are a few large differences between them.

Here, I will spotlight some of the key differences to keep in mind, so you know what you should be aware of for each condition and the different treatments that are possible. 

Alzheimer's vs dementia: Differences in the symptoms 

One of the first things that you will encounter if you start to try to find the differences between the two conditions is that there are in fact, a lot of similarities between the two. The key to remember is that dementia is a cascade of symptoms that patients can experience related to memory loss.

These symptoms can strike in a number of conditions such as Alzheimer's, HIV, Parkinson's disease, or strokes. They will initially present as small episodes of forgetfulness and can progress to more dramatic memory loss. As the condition progresses, patients can even notice a change in their personality. Because dementia is also a condition associated with other diseases, patients may also notice shaking or tremors in their hands early on in the course of their disease due to damage in the brain in specific regions. This is likely seen in conditions like Parkinson's disease and Hungtington's dementia. 

Alzheimer's Disease, much like dementia, is also likely to have these similar symptoms. It is estimated that approximately 50 percent of patients who have dementia will also have Alzheimer's disease so as expected, there are a lot of overlaps between the two phenomena.

There are some differences in the mechanisms of what causes the disease but this is something that even Science is currently debating as the true cause of AD is still unknown. What experts do know, however, is that when a patient is diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, there is a higher likelihood that they will have difficulty remembering recent events. This is due to the fact that AD is a disease that can affect multiple quadrants of the brain at once whereas dementia will typically be localized to certain regions of the brain at the start of the disease and may eventually spread to other regions.

The frontal lobe of the brain is also quite likely to be affected so as a result, patients will also likely have personality changes as well as reduced inhibition. This means they will have impaired judgment and can make bad decisions. As AD progresses, these patients will also have difficulty walking, speaking, chewing or swallowing. 

Alzheimer's is also a disease that will progressively get worse as plaques accumulate in the brain causing more and more damage. With dementia, the symptoms may progress but it will not be as progressive. 

Treatment options available for Alzheimer's disease and dementia 

Another aspect of the difference between these two conditions would be in the way they are managed. The treatment strategy is completely different so it will be worth noting some of the differences so you are aware of them. 

To begin with, Alzheimer's is a disease that does not have a cure. Treatment options are available but they will only have a temporary effect and most of the benefits from these medications will disappear after one to two years of taking the medications.

Patients with AD can expect to have a cocktail of different medications to help manage their symptoms to help stabilize the changes.

  • Anti-psychotics can be beneficial to patients who have had symptoms like depression or hallucinations that can be seen with the disease.
  • Patients will also need to have medications for insomnia as sleep disorders are likely to be seen in the later stages of Alzheimer's disease.

Due to the limited treatment options, on average, a person diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease will live approximately four years after their initial diagnosis. There are some cases where patients can live between eight to 20 years after the diagnosis, however, so it entirely depends on the patient for each case. 

When it comes to dementia, on the other hand, therapies can be more effective depending on the underlying cause. Patients who suffer from hypoglycemia, for example, may show signs of dementia due to the fact that there is not enough sugar in the brain to help stimulate memory functioning. If patients are given an adequate dose of sugar and insulin, they will likely return to a state of mental sharpness and dementia will resolve. 

This is also probable in conditions like tumor growth in the brain. If a tumor is suppressing some of the neurons in the brain, cognitive function will likely suffer. If the tumor is found to be easy to remove, patients can have a surgical procedure in order to remove the tumor growth and notice almost immediate improvements in their cognition. 

In some conditions, like Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease, or even a stroke, dementia will be something that is harder to combat. Doctors can give various therapies when it comes to strokes in an effort to prevent a reoccurrence of this event. Patients who have had one stroke are at a much greater risk compared to the general population for having another stroke so it is imperative that blood thinning medications are started in order to reduce this risk.

When it comes to more debilitating diseases like Parkinson's or Huntington's disease, dementia is something that will be more apparent. Treating the condition can actually improve the memory and cognition of patients with this disease but it is something that may also be temporary. Patients are often given the same drugs that are utilized in AD patients to see if an improvement can be achieved. 

The take-home message to understand between the prognosis of both of these conditions is that in some conditions, dementia can actually be reversed if the underlying disorder is addressed. When it comes to Alzheimer's disease, symptoms get worse over time and the memory impairment will keep progressing. Therapy may provide some temporary relief but do not be too hopeful of the lasting effects. 

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