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The Most Ignored Answer to the Most Asked Question: Dementia Types

As someone living with Alzheimer’s, I have had the good fortune to tell my story to a lot of people. I have spoken on a local, state, and national level to just about anyone who will listen. I consider it therapy for me because I want to do something to help fight this disease, but I’m limited to what I can do. I certainly am not a doctor or a researcher, but I consider Alzheimer’s my job now - to help educate people about this disease. Almost every time I spoke the same question was asked.

Before I was forced to retire due to Alzheimer’s I had a pretty high-profile job. As a result, many people who were facing Alzheimer’s in their families turned to me to ask questions, get support, and help them find resources.

What's the difference between dementia & Alzheimer's?

The same question that kept coming up was “What is the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s?”

I tried my best to explain the answer in lay terms. There are many types of dementia with Alzheimer’s being the most common type.

To help explain this, let’s liken it to cancer. If you go to the doctor and they tell you that you have cancer, your first response would probably be, “What type of cancer do I have?” You would then want to know far along is the cancer and what is the best treatment plan. You wouldn’t leave the doctor’s office with a vague diagnosis of “cancer”. That is the same thing with dementia.

When the doctor says you have dementia, the first question asked should be, “What type of dementia do I have?”. There are many types of dementia, and they are treated differently.

A conversation with a close friend

A close friend of mine was recently in this scenario with her mother. After she took her mother to the neurologist she called me and was excited with what she found. This is how our conversation went.

Jane (name has been changed): I am so relieved. The doctor said my mom didn’t have Alzheimer’s, she just has dementia.
Me: What form of dementia does she have?
Jane: What do you mean? They just said dementia and they gave her some pills.
Me: What type of pills did they give her?
[After explaining what drugs her mother was given I replied.]
Me: Those are the same drugs I have been given for my Alzheimer’s.
Jane: Well the doctor said she has dementia. They didn’t say she had Alzheimer’s.

My friend Jane knows the difference. But, she couldn’t accept that. 'Dementia' sounds better.

Why dementia type is important

Knowing the type of dementia is important, not just for the person with Alzheimer's and their family, but also for the dementia community as a whole.

There is a lot of work being done to help find answers about what causes certain types of dementia and researchers need to know how many people are afflicted with which type of dementia. Procuring research dollars is a difficult task and having an accurate number of people with certain types of dementia is important to those seeking funds.

We need as much help as we can get with finding a cause and a cure for this disease. We can all do our part.

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