“My father has Alzheimer’s. He doesn’t have dementia.”

This is probably one of my favorite dementia misconceptions and one that I hear quite frequently.

In order to clear up the confusion, here is my version of Dementia 101:

Think of dementia as an umbrella:  dementia is the overarching canopy of the umbrella and Alzheimer’s, which is characterized by plaques and tangles in the brain and which has a slower disease progression, is only one of the ribs.  Other ribs or types of dementia include:

* Vascular Dementia (also known as Multi-Infarct Dementia):  a type of dementia that is caused by the blockage of blood flow to the brain, usually related to strokes, TIA’s, and heart disease.  This type of dementia typically happens in a stair-step decline due to the decline happening as a result of mini-stroke incidents.  It is the second most common form of dementia (Alzheimer’s is the most common).

*Fronto-temporal Lobe Dementia (also known as Pick’s Disease):  a type of dementia that is caused by the degeneration of the frontal lobes of the brain.  This dementia is typically present in younger individuals and is characterized by bizarre behaviors, no inhibitions, deterioration of language, and loss of muscle control.

* Lewy Body Dementia:  a form of dementia that is caused by abnormal protein deposits in the brain.  It is characterized by muscle rigidity, delusions and/or hallucinations, and difficulty with REM sleep.  Lewy Body Dementia is the third most common form of dementia.

* Parkinson’s Dementia:  a type of dementia that starts with the physical deterioration of Parkinson’s disease.  Parkinson’s individuals also develop Lewy Bodies and, therefore, they have similar characteristics of Lewy Body dementia.  The difference and difficulty with Parkinson’s Dementia is that those individuals with Parkinson’s typically get the dementia late in the Parkinson’s disease process.  Their bodies deteriorate before their minds do, but people often treat them as though they have dementia long before they actually do.

* Huntington’s Disease:  a type of dementia that is caused by a defective gene and that affects the central portion of the brain.  It typically develops in younger individuals and is characterized by abnormal mood swings, irritability and angry outbursts, obsessive compulsive behaviors, and involuntary movements.

*Early Onset Alzheimer’s:  a form of Alzheimer’s that is seen in persons under the age of 65.  One of the youngest individuals that I have met here in Utah with Early Onset Alzheimer’s is in his 30’s.  The tragic thing about these individuals is that they are diagnosed at a time when their families are young, they are in the middle of their careers, and it typically has a devastating effect because the breadwinner of the family becomes unable to financially support them and there are not as many resources available to these individuals and families.

So, although you can say, “My father has dementia.  He doesn’t have Alzheimer’s,” you cannot say, “My father has Alzheimer’s.  He doesn’t have dementia.”

For those of you who are visual like I am, here is the visual to help clear things up:
Dementia umbrella

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