Modern Migraine MD

How Alzheimer's Disease Differs from Other Types of Dementia

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How Alzheimer's Disease Differs from Other Types of Dementia
Though similar, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia aren’t the same thing. Understanding the difference is key for managing and treating your condition. Keep reading to learn what you need to know.

It’s natural to experience some age-related forgetfulness as you age. But this can also make it a challenge to know what’s normal and what could be a symptom of dementia

Dementia is a complex disease and can signal other serious health conditions, and different types of dementia exist, including Alzheimer’s disease, which affects more than 10% of Americans 65 and older.

For these reasons, if you’re concerned about Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia, it’s important to schedule an evaluation with a neurological specialist rather than piece together information on your own. 

Board-certified neurologist Risa Ravitz, MD, at Modern Migraine MD sees patients at her offices in Manhattan, NYC, Toms River, New Jersey, Aventura, Florida, and virtually in 13 states. Dr. Ravitz offers personalized diagnosis and care for all types of dementia—including Alzheimer’s disease. 

One of the most frequently asked questions Dr. Ravitz fields about dementia is what makes Alzheimer’s disease different from other types of the disease. To help you stay informed, our team put together this guide with information answering this question and how we can help.

Alzheimer’s disease vs. other dementia

Many people are curious about the difference between Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. “Dementia” is the term for a group of symptoms characterized by:

  • Memory loss and confusion
  • Trouble with language, including speaking and writing
  • Issues with problem solving
  • Problems with focus or following directions
  • Issues with other thinking-related skills

Alzheimer’s disease is merely one cause of dementia, the way coronary artery disease is one cause of heart disease. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, affecting over 6 million Americans.

This progressive brain disorder is caused by the degeneration of brain cells (neurons). Since the first neurons to suffer involve language, memory, and thinking, those are also the first symptoms. However, researchers believe the changes in the brain that cause these problems start decades before symptoms begin. 

Other types of dementia have other causes. Here’s a look at some of the other common causes of dementia and what triggers them:

  • Lewy body disease: Lewy bodies are abnormal clumps of alpha-synuclein proteins in the neurons; this disease accounts for about 5% of dementia cases and is linked to Parkinson’s disease
  • Vascular dementia: Also called cerebrovascular disease, this type of dementia is caused by blood vessel damage, which prevents brain tissue getting sufficient oxygen, blood, and other nutrients
  • Frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD): The exact cause of this dementia remains unknown, which causes the wasting away of neurons in the frontal and temporal lobes and affects personality, language, movement, and behavior
  • Hippocampal sclerosis (HS): This type of dementia is caused by an acquired structural abnormality, usually as a result of prolonged seizures or other structural abnormalities

Some people with dementia-related brain changes show more than one cause of dementia. Researchers believe this mixed dementia affects more than 50% of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. 

Sometimes, untreated underlying physical conditions can trigger symptoms that look like dementia. These include but aren’t limited to:

  • Certain immune disorders
  • Endocrine abnormalities
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Brain tumors
  • Kidney and liver issues

The good news is that treating the underlying health condition usually stops the dementia symptoms as well. 

How we help dementia patients

At Modern Migraine MD, Dr. Ravitz begins dementia treatment with a comprehensive neurological assessment to rule out other possible causes of memory loss.

At this time, no cure exists for Alzheimer’s disease or most other types of dementia. However, advances in medicine have yielded therapies that can slow the disease’s progress in some cases. 

Depending on your diagnosis, Dr. Ravitz may prescribe dementia medications to help improve symptoms and slow down memory loss. These include:

  • Cholinesterase inhibitors to increase your levels of chemical messengers related to judgment and memory
  • Memantine to regulate glutamate, a chemical messenger involved in learning and memory
  • Other medications to address different symptoms (e.g., antidepressants) 

Other medications are currently being studied to provide additional help for dementia patients.

Learn more about the different types of dementia or for a comprehensive evaluation, schedule an in-person or virtual appointment with Dr. Ravitz at Modern Migraine MD.