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What’s the Difference Between Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia?

Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are often discussed together, especially while looking into ways to treat or lower our risk of developing them. It can lead many to assume they’re essentially the same illness. However, we spoke with an expert who shed light on what sets them apart — and why it’s so important for more of us to be aware of their differences.

Teepa Snow, an occupational therapist and advocate for those living with dementia, told Woman’s World, “Dementia is a broad or umbrella term that describes many different conditions and types. Alzheimer’s disease is one of those types.”

She added, “In fact, it is believed there are over 120 different types of dementia.” Snow listed just a few examples as:

  • Young onset Alzheimer’s disease, which includes chromosome 21-associated dementias
  • Late-life onset Alzheimer’s
  • Frontotemporal dementia
  • Lewy Body dementia (late actor Robin Williams has been thought to have lived with this)
  • Vascular dementias, such as multi-infarct, single-infarct, subcortical, or CADASIL
  • Posterior Cortical Atrophy (PCA)
  • Normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH) associated dementia
  • Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) associated dementia
  • Genetic syndromes, such as Huntington’s disease (HD)
  • Infectious diseases, such as Creutzfeld-Jakob disease (CJD)
  • Metabolic diseases, such as Neuronal Ceroid Lipofuscinosis (NCL; Batten’s disease)
  • Toxicity, induced by long-term exposure, such as Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS or alcohol-induced dementia) or methamphetamine-induced

Although Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia — accounting for 60 to 80 percent of cases — we shouldn’t automatically lump all instances of cognitive decline into that category. Otherwise, we run the risk of not getting the proper treatment for ourselves or our loved ones.

“Knowing the difference in how dementias are identified, at what age they can begin to develop, and how they progress is important,” Snow tells us. “By helping spread the word that there are more dementias than Alzheimer’s, you can help increase the chances of more accurate diagnoses, more funding for research, and more awareness about the need for condition-appropriate caregiver skills.”

You can learn more about the many different types of dementia on Snow’s website and in her new book, Understanding The Changing Brain – A Positive Approach to Dementia Care.

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