Several weeks ago, Ted Turner, 79-year old billionaire, CNN founder, and philanthropist, announced that he had dementia with Lewy bodies. When interviewed, he was not able to provide information about DLB, or readily recall its name, but expressed gratitude that it was “not Alzheimer’s.”  Following in the footsteps of this disclosure was a recent article in The New York Times describing the proactive efforts of Laurie Scherrer, a Pennsylvania resident diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and frontotemporal dementia at age 55. So, what does it mean to have dementia that is not Alzheimer’s?

Dementia refers to global cognitive decline that is significant enough to interfere with daily functioning.  While Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia in people aged 65 years and older, there are numerous other causes of age-related dementia. In this regard, dementia can be thought of as a symptom which may be caused by a number of different diseases, such as dementia with Lewy bodies, frontotemporal dementia, cerebrovascular dementia, and Parkinson’s disease.  Each type of dementia can be categorized by the specific changes that occur in the brain at a microscopic level. The exact symptoms evident in each person depends on the precise location of brain change as well as the unique brain circuitry of each individual, dependent on their life experiences and genetic predispositions.  This is why no two people with dementia, even with the same type of dementia, have exactly the same symptoms.  The brain is like real estate: it’s all about location, location, location.

Age-related dementias are not mutually exclusive. This means that just because a person has one type of dementia does not mean they can’t also have another type of dementia too. In fact, having dementia puts one at a higher risk for developing other dementias.

Knowing what type(s) of dementia a person has is important to planning, understanding symptoms and prognosis, and accessing treatment options and supportive resources. A comprehensive evaluation is the first step to proper diagnosis and treatment planning. If you are concerned about signs of cognitive decline, contact The Cognitive and Research Center of New Jersey to set up an evaluation and learn about interventions, including clinical trials and supportive resources. Time is brain. Call today.