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Alzheimer’s disease vs Dementia?

March 27, 2014

By Editor
A common question we hear at the Alzheimer Society is one that involves the confusion over Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Aren’t they the same? Is one worse than the other? What is the difference?
 
In actuality, dementia isn’t a disease at all but an umbrella term that describes a variety of brain disorders involving memory loss and behavioural changes. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common of these disorders and according to the Alzheimer Society Canada, accounts for almost 65% of all dementias in Canada. There are other types of dementia, including (but not limited to) Vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia and Frontotemporal dementia that impairs brain function and associated behavior.
 
Dementia is NOT a normal part of aging. That said the biggest contributing factor in Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias is aging.
 
The reason for those contrasting but similar sounding statements is that with age comes a higher incidence of risk factors. These risk factors, which include high blood pressure, stress and obesity, are implicated as contributors to the presence of dementia. Like dementia, these risk factors also shouldn’t be considered as a normal part of aging. All of which speaks to the current thinking regarding dementia prevention and brain health where the concept of an overall healthy lifestyle with active exercise, socialization, diet and intellectual stimulation can play an important role in staving off or delaying the onset of dementia as well as providing a richer and healthier life.
 
The other reality of dementia is that it is a multi victim type of illness. It not only changes the life and livelihood of the person afflicted, it also profoundly affects others around that person. The circle of influence that dementia radiates includes family, care partners (likely family members), friends and work colleagues (depending on age of onset). All will be affected by the disease, some to a lesser extent and others in a way that could be easily described as all consuming.
 
At the Alzheimer Society we see that effect every day.  A 2012 statistic showed that across the province our client base was comprised of a 3 to 1 ratio of caregivers to persons with dementia.
 
At the Alzheimer Society we also seeing more awareness and openness about the  disease. With that willingness to face the realities of dementia, comes hope – more hope than ever before. Yes, we are still searching for the basic answers but over the last twenty years we have seen important developments in support programs, services, clinical care and research.
 
The objective of this column is to highlight those opportunities of information and care that are available now. Our hope is that this space becomes a resource and a confirmation of the journey one embarks upon with a diagnosis of dementia.  We also encourage you to visit the Alzheimer Society website at alzheimerlondon.ca which offers in-depth information on Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.