Distinguishing Between Alzheimer's Disease and Dementia

David Roeltgen, MD Health Guide
  • It is important to distinguish Alzheimer's disease from dementia, which is a more general term. Dementia is the medical term for impairments in thinking and memory that occur due to disease affecting the brain. Alzheimer's disease is a specific form of dementia, and the most common form of dementia in the United States.

    The first mention or concern about Alzheimer's disease can be very frightening. As with other unknowns and uncertainties, fear and distress are frequently diminished with understanding and insight. Preparing for a doctor's visit with a concern about Alzheimer's disease has two parts: things that the doctor will want to know from you, and things that you will want to know from the doctor.
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    The doctor will want to know in both a general and specific way what difficulties that you or your family member have been experiencing. Included in this might be questions about performance in day-to-day activities. These include:

    - Shopping
    - Keeping a Checkbook,
    - Remembering Conversations
    - Remembering Phone Calls
    - Performing Hobbies

    The doctor may not always ask about those specific areas that concern you or your family. It is important that you make the physician aware of your concerns even if they are not directly addressed initially.

    You should expect your doctor to put the concerns in the context of what is expected in people with memory trouble, aging and diseases of aging. You should expect your doctor to indicate whether your concerns reflect typical aging, underlying illness, mild impairment that does not necessarily reflect a dementia or dementia. Your doctor should then indicate if any further tests need to be done and whether any treatment would be appropriate.

    These are all issues that are typically covered in a first visit to a physician with whom the possible diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease is the primary problem being addressed. Commonly, further discussion of these and other issues occurs at subsequent visits.
Published On: January 11, 2007