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The Difference Between Alzheimer’s and Dementia

- Wednesday, March 21, 2012

When family members become caretakers of loved ones who suffer from Alzheimer's disease and dementia, they often study up on the condition.

"The more you can learn the better you're going to be and you better understand the disease."

Often used interchangeably, both dementia and Alzheimer's are forms of mental degradation. In many ways they seem the same but are actually two different medical terms.

"I tell people that it’s sort of like dementia is the team and Alzheimer's is one of the players," says Dr. Michael Raab, a geriatrician with Lee Memorial Health System.

Dementia covers a number of disorders; Alzheimer's is most common.

Alzheimer's has physical characteristics in the brain, which most other forms of dementia don't have.

"When you look at the brain, there are tangles and plaques. The Lewy Body dementias, the vascular dementias, the front dementias, none of them really have any plaques or tangles," says Dr. Raab.

What's more, Alzheimer's progression is gradual and can begin in middle age. General dementia is usually found in advanced years.

Finally, various conditions can affect different parts of the brain. Only a specialist can give you proper diagnosis.

"It takes very sophisticated testing which is what we do with our neuropsychologists, to try and differentiate the areas of thinking that have been lost," says Dr. Raab.