People often use "dementia" and "Alzheimer's disease" interchangeably, but the two words do not mean the same thing. Dementia describes a cluster of symptoms from a loss of cognitive skills—thinking, remembering, and reasoning—that is so severe the person has trouble carrying out daily activities.
Dementia usually is caused by a disease or condition. Sometimes it results from neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimer's disease or Parkinson's disease. In fact, Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia and today as many as 5 million Americans may have the disease. A stroke in the memory or language part of the brain also can create cognitive impairments that constitute dementia, but this dementia, a result of vascular disease, is referred to as vascular dementia. In other cases, dementia has a treatable cause. For example, the cumulative side effects of medications taken for other medical conditions can diminish the ability to remember and think. Depression, blood clots pressing on the brain, and metabolic imbalances also can lead to a dementia-like condition.
In the early stages of memory loss and other cognitive problems, it can be hard to distinguish between AD and other possible causes of dementia. That's one reason why many researchers are focusing so intently on the very early stages of AD. Not only do they want to understand what triggers and worsens the disease process, they want to develop sensitive, accurate diagnostic tools and tests. An early and accurate assessment of troubling signs and symptoms is crucial for encouraging people get the treatment that matches their actual condition. Even though there are currently too few effective remedies, finding out early that troubling symptoms are caused by AD can help the person get into treatment early, before it is too late to intervene, and while the current medications may have some chance of helping the person maintain cognitive function for a longer time. Early diagnosis also helps the person with AD and their family plan for the future and make the most of the time available to them.
Previous: The First Discovery
Excerpted from THE ALZHEIMER'S PROJECT: MOMENTUM IN SCIENCE, published by Public Affairs, www.publicaffairsbooks.com.
In This Section
Momentum in Science: The Supplementary Series
- Understanding and Attacking Alzheimer's 12 min
- How Far We Have Come in Alzheimer's Research 15 min
- Identifying Mild Cognitive Impairment 20 min
- The Role of Genetics in Alzheimer's 12 min
- Advances in Brain Imaging 11 min
- Looking Into the Future of Alzheimer's 6 min
- The Connection Between Insulin and Alzheimer's 21 min
- Inflammation, the Immune System, and Alzheimer's 29 min
- The Benefit of Diet and Exercise in Alzheimer's 16 min
- Cognitive Reserve: What the Religious Orders Study is Revealing about Alzheimer's 20 min
- Searching for an Alzheimer's Cure: The Story of Flurizan 30 min
- The Pulse of Drug Development 15 min
- The DeMoe Family: Early-Onset Alzheimer's Genetics 25 min
- The Nanney/Felts Family: Late-Onset Alzheimer's Genetics 20 min
- The Quest for Biomarkers 17 min
Video: Inside the Brain: Unraveling the Mystery of Alzheimer's Disease
This 4-minute captioned video shows the progression of Alzheimer's disease in the brain.
Inside the Brain: An Interactive Tour
The Brain Tour explains how the brain works and how Alzheimer's affects it.
Alzheimer's Disease: Unraveling the Mystery
This book explains what AD is, describes the main areas in which researchers are working, and highlights new approaches for helping families and friends care for people with AD.
- About The Scientists
Connect with Alzheimer's Research
Find out how you can participate in clinical trials or studies, find a research center, or get up-to-date information at 1-800-438-4380.
The Alzheimer's Association 24/7 Helpline provides reliable information and support to all those who need assistance. Call us toll-free anytime day or night at 1-800-272-3900.
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- Rapid advances in our knowledge about AD have led to the development of promising new drugs and treatment strategies. However, before these new strategies can be used in clinical practice, they must be shown to work in people. Advances in prevention and treatment are only possible thanks to volunteers who participate in clinical trials.
- Among those touched by Alzheimer's (excluding self), nearly one-third provide support as a friend or relative, another 3% provide support as a healthcare professional, and the remaining two-thirds provide no support to the person suffering from Alzheimer's. When support is provided, it most often entails emotional support, followed by care-giving support. While small in comparison, more than one person in ten is providing financial support. Read more.