Blog post by Kerri-Anne Dooley – Dementia vs Alzheimer’s – what’s the difference?

22 June 2015

In my role I often hear families, caregivers and people within the industry use the terms Alzheimer’s disease and dementia interchangeably as many believe they are the same thing. Whilst the two diagnoses are related, they are remarkably different and still require a great deal of research and stronger public awareness.

The vast majority of us affected by the diagnoses will never find out exactly what is causing Mum to forget particular words or a diligent partner to forget to pay the bills. Ev
en after memory glitches become impossible to ignore, often families don’t always seek an official diagnosis, rather just deal with the effects.

So what is the difference? Well dementia is an umbrella term for anything that can cause issues with brain functioning that affects communication and performance of daily activities. In other words, it refers to a set of symptoms, not the disease itself. In a way, it can be compared to when somebody has a sore throat, where the symptom is there but the cause is unknown – it could be allergens, strep throat or a common cold. Similarly, when someone has dementia, they are experiencing symptoms without being told what is causing them. Dementia is associated with more than 100 different disease and illness processes, one being Alzheimer’s disease which specifically affects parts of the brain that control thought, memory and language. According to the Centre for Disease Control, Alzheimer’s disease is a common cause of dementia causing as many as 50-70% of all dementia cases.

Another big difference between the two is that Alzheimer’s is not a reversible disease – it is degenerative and currently there is no cure. Some forms of dementia that present as ‘memory loss’ such as adverse drug interaction/s or a vitamin deficiency are treatable and in some cases, even temporary.

Adding to the average person’s mix-ups about the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s, there have been several cognitive disorders mentioned in the news lately. Diagnoses like Lewy-Body disease, Benson’s syndrome, Binswanger’s disease or another brain disease-variant called Pick’s. Understandably, these along with the 96 or so other possible diagnoses within dementia, make it a very confusing maze to navigate.

So what really matters in the confusing name game of dementia? Firstly, it’s important to get a proper diagnosis of the cause of dementia so that appropriate treatment, counselling and referral can begin. Until a diagnosis is made, the best approach to care for someone with dementia is engagement, communication and loving care.

Here at PresCare we offer focused specialist care by trained carers for clients with dementia, at home or in a secure residential environment. Our teams pride themselves on providing services and activities designed to make life easier for those living with dementia. Every PresCare residential care home has a secure dementia-specific wing and in-home dementia care is available through our community care sites across Queensland.

PresCare has also recently been a part of spear heading a Dementia Alliance, partnering with Alzheimer’s Australia and other organisations to assist in creating Dementia Friendly Communities throughout Queensland.

PresCare also offers Advance Care Planning, a process that is encouraged with clients/residents and their families with dementia so they can forward plan for their future health care needs before they lose capacity. This is a very important part of maintaining their control, a sense of dignity and creating confidence that their choices will be respected.

To find out how to access dementia care services refer to the residential or in-home care pages on our website or call us on 1800 773 722.

Kerri-Anne Dooley
Clinical Training & Audit Coordinator
Service Improvement and Innovation