People are frequently puzzled by statements they hear about older adults and dementia. If you have an aging loved one with dementia, chances are you may be confused yourself. Let’s untangle three serious misconceptions often heard about dementia.
- Alzheimer’s vs. Dementia: What’s the Difference?
You may have heard someone say: “Dementia? No, my mother has Alzheimer’s, not dementia.”
However, the accurate way to explain it would be: “Dementia? Yes, my mother has Alzheimer’s disease.”
Here’s why: Dementia is marked by a decline in mental abilities, including memory disorders, personality changes and impaired reasoning. There are many types of dementia.
Alzheimer’s disease is one of those many types of dementia. Alzheimer’s symptoms are distinct and specific. Alzheimer’s disease is the most commonly diagnosed type of dementia.
Therefore, all Alzheimer’s disease is dementia, but not all dementia is Alzheimer’s. Think of this like all poodles are dogs, but not all dogs are poodles.
- What’s Worse: Dementia or Alzheimer’s?
“My father’s case is much worse than dementia – he actually has Alzheimer’s disease.”
However, someone with a clearer understanding might say: “My father is having a challenging time with dementia. He’s got Alzheimer’s disease.”
Here’s why: As mentioned above, Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia. There can be wide variations between each diagnosis and each person with that diagnosis.
Some people eventually die with their dementia, while others die from it. So individual is each person’s expression of their diagnosis, there is a saying in the dementia care community: “Once you’ve seen one case of Alzheimer’s, you’ve seen one case of Alzheimer’s.”
Focus on your loved one’s remaining abilities and care needs rather than the severity of the dementia.
- Can’t We Just Call It Alzheimer’s?
“Oh, I don’t think it’s worth the trouble to get my mother an official diagnosis. I’m sure she has Alzheimer’s.”
A more thorough approach might be: “We made an appointment with mother’s physician to see why Mom has these symptoms. We wonder if it’s Alzheimer’s disease or some other dementia.”
Here’s why: There are numerous reasons to get an official diagnosis. First, each type of dementia has its own distinct path of development, each type of dementia is different and each person has distinct abilities/disabilities.
Second, it may not be dementia. It could be some other illness or dementia plus another illness. Alzheimer’s disease is a “diagnosis of exclusion.” This means it cannot be tested for directly.
Other likely diagnoses need to be considered and eliminated, before settling on Alzheimer’s. The diagnostic process should include a complete physical examination, a medication review, brain imaging and blood tests.