Dementia 101

People get confused between dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Are they the same?  Is dementia a form of Alzheimer’s?  Or is Alzheimer’s a form of dementia?

Dementia 101 will help you understand that the term dementia refers to a group of symptoms / conditions that are unique but may have similar characteristics for different diseases.
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When I was growing up, all children had measles, mumps and chicken pox……each was different from the other, but they were categorized as communicable diseases. A similar concept applies to the term dementia.   Dementia is a general, umbrella term that refers to many forms of dementia that are similar, yet different.

When we think of individuals with dementia, we think of people who are confused and have short term memory issues… people who lose their car keys… get lost when driving or show up at doctor’s appointments when they have no appointment.  These are all behaviors that some individuals who have dementia might experience. What I want to do in Dementia 101 is identify the various types and causes of dementia.  I won’t go into great detail, but hopefully the information will be helpful to you.

One of the most important concepts you need to understand is that no two people are alike.  Just as our finger prints are unique, so is how individuals’ exhibit dementia.  There are symptoms and behaviors that many individuals may share, but each person is affected according to what part of the brain has been touched by the disease process.

Dementia refers to a group of symptoms that negatively affects one’s cognitive ability to carry out daily tasks the require memory, reasoning and logic. Dementia is not a disease, but refers to a group of symptoms.

Maybe this will help clarify the difference…..  If I told you I had a sore throat, what disease would I have?  Well, it could be a cold or it could be allergies or it could be a sinus infection.  My sore throat is a symptom of something else.  Until the doctor has more information, he/she can not tell me what disease I may have.  Dementia refers to loss of cognitive ability.


The conditions listed below may cause behaviors that appear to look like some form of dementia initially.  However, if they are treated properly and within a reasonable period of time, the dementia-like behaviors may disappear.

  • Metabolic Imbalances (Kidneys, Liver or Thyroid)
  • UTI  (Urinary Tract Infection)
  • Head Trauma
  • Strokes
  • Brain Tumors
  • Cross-Interaction of Medications
  • Over Medication
  • Vitamin B-12 Deficiency
  • Chronic Alcoholism
  • Malnutrition
  • Dehydration
  • Genetics
  • Social Drug Abuse
  • Sleep Apnea


There are many, many diseases or syndromes that fall under this umbrella. Many of the ones listed below have similar symptoms, but each also has it’s own symptoms that differentiates it from the others.

Just to name a few of the ones you may be more familiar with, without going into details:

Alzheimer’s Disease (AD)                                                                                   Vascular Dementia

Early On-set or Younger On-set Alzheimer’s Disease                                 Huntington’s Disease

Parkinson’s Disease (PD)                                                            Frontotemporal Degeneration (FTD)

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)                                                                                        Down Syndrome

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE)                                                         Korsakoff Syndrome

Mixed Dementia                                                                                            Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease

Lewy Body Dementia (LBD)                                                                                        Mixed Dementia

To be sure, there are  many other forms of dementia.  The one we hear the most about is Alzheimer’s disease because this is the most common form of dementia for Americans and those around the world.  But as you can see, there are many others forms of dementia.

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