Dementia and Alzheimer’s – What’s the Difference?

James K. Curto, CMDCP

James K. Curto, CMDCP

The Birches Assisted Living, sailor, jazz fan, LTHS, Denison, Kellogg NU grad, and a White Sox fan. The spark of an idea for the Birches Assisted Living and Memory Care began when I heard about this new “assisted living movement” back in the mid-90. I found and purchased the land in 1997, and we began construction a year later... I grew up in La Grange and am a proud graduate of Lyons Township High School. My wife, Mary, and I have lived in Western Springs since 1992. I spent much of my career in hospital management, after receiving training in that field at the Kellogg School at Northwestern University.

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Is it simply a loss of memory, or is it more complicated than that? Is it “better” to have Dementia than Alzheimer’s Disease?

Dementia is a medical term, and here’s a definition: An acquired complex of intellectual deterioration which affects at least two of the following areas of cognitive function:

  • Memory
  • Language
  • Orientation
  • Perception
  • Attention
  • Judgment
  • Performing tasks in sequence

Doctors classify Dementia into two major types – reversible Dementia, where an infection, major depression, head injury, brain tumor, or even dehydration can cause irreversible Dementia. Irreversible Dementia can have over nine different causes, including Alzheimer’s Disease – some of which may appear in combination.

Alzheimer’s Disease is considered one of the causes of Dementia, and it is the primary cause, and it is rarely inherited. Here are some other causes of irreversible Dementia.

Vascular Dementia

Vascular Dementia Refers to the brain’s blood vessels. Formerly known as Multi-Infarct Dementia. Also, multiple mini-strokes or TIAs –transient ischemic attacks. Vascular Dementia is considered the second most common cause of Dementia.

Dementia with Lewy Bodies

Dementia with Lewy Bodies is considered the third most common cause of irreversible Dementia after Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia. Often connected with and occurring with Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. Some theories suggest DLB is a variant of one of these diseases rather than a separate Disease.

Parkinson’s Disease

People with PD are more likely to have Dementia than others without PD or other causes. Older PD patients are more likely than younger patients to have Dementia.

Frontotemporal Dementia

Frontotemporal Dementia including Pick’s Disease and Primary Progressive Aphasia (a decline in one or more language functions); Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, Huntington Disease

These primary (or underlying diseases) are sometimes referred to as forms of Dementia rather than causes. Many, including Alzheimer’s, Lewy Body Disease, and Pick’s, can only be definitively diagnosed after death by microscopic exam of brain tissue.