Alzheimer’s and Dementia: What’s the Difference?

While the terms “Alzheimer’s disease” and “dementia” are often used interchangeably, the two are not the same. Dementia is a general term for a set of symptoms caused by physical disorders affecting the brain. Symptoms of dementia impact memory, communication abilities, and daily activities. Alzheimer’s disease, however, is a specific disease and the most common cause of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60-80% of all dementia diagnoses.  

Learning the two terms and the difference between them is important for treatment. This article will explain the differences between Alzheimer’s and dementia. 

What is Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is a specific degenerative brain disease that generally affects most of the brain and falls under the umbrella of dementia. Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease and the symptoms generally worsen as the course of the disease progresses. 

Common symptoms of Alzheimer’s can include:

  • Apathy
  • Depression
  • Difficulty remembering recent conversations
  • Confusion
  • Behavioural changes

With Alzheimer’s disease, brain cells die and connections between brain cells may break down. In the early stages of Alzheimers, memory loss is mild. However, with late-stage Alzheimer’s, people lose the ability to carry on a conversation. 

What causes Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is caused by complex brain changes following cell damage. The greatest known risk is increasing in age. Majority of people with Alzheimer’s are 65 and older. 

What is the treatment for Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s has no cure. One difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia is that treatment option. Some treatments exist to temporarily slow down the worsening of dementia symptoms and improve quality of life, however there is no treatment or medication to cure Alzheimer’s. An individual living with Alzheimer’s typically lives four to eight years after diagnosis, but can live as long as 20 years. 

What is dementia?

Dementia describes a group of symptoms associated with a decline in memory and reasoning. Dementia can occur due to a variety of conditions, and the most common condition is Alzheimer’s disease.

People with mixed dementia have more than one type of dementia. Other forms of dementia include:

  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
  • Dementia with Lewy bodies
  • Frontotemporal dementia
  • Parkinsons disease
  • Mixed dementia
  • Vascular dementia: the second most common type.

Symptoms of dementia can include problems with:

  • Short-term memory
  • Keeping track of personal belongings
  • Remembering daily tasks, such as appointments and paying bills
  • Traveling out of the neighborhood

As dementia progresses, it can severely impact an individual’s ability to function independently.

What causes dementia?

Dementia is caused by damage to the brain cells. Though the cause of the damage is generally unknown, studies have shown that neurodegenerative diseases, vascular diseases, head injuries, and other risk factors can increase the chances of dementia. 

Is there a cure for dementia?

The outlook for people with dementia depends on what’s causing the dementia. For example, someone with Vascular dementia can have their symptoms slow down, but it still shortens a person’s lifespan. 

How can you tell the difference between Alzheimer’s disease and dementia?

Both conditions can cause a decline in the ability to think, memory impairment, and communication impairment. 

Though some symptoms of dementia will share similarities to those of Alzheimer’s disease, dementia symptoms may include other symptoms that can help make a differential diagnosis.

The most important difference between the two is remembering that while dementia is a general term, Alzheimer’s is a specific disease.

For more information, visit Alzheimer’s Association

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