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What is the Difference Between Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease

A common question is what is the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. Dementia is a general term for memory loss and difficulties with cognitive  abilities, but it is not a single disease.  Dementia is a broad umbrella term, that includes many more specific conditions, including Alzheimer’s Disease. We review both in detail below.

 

 

Difference Between Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease

 

Dementia Umbrella What is the Difference Between Dementia and Alzheimer's Disease

 

Dementia

Dementia is a brain condition that makes it challenging to remember things and causes other cognitive problems like making it hard to think and understand language. It may also be defined as a gradual deterioration and progressive decline in an individual’s cognitive function.

Dementia can decline one’s cognitive functioning to the point that eventually a patient cannot carry out their everyday activities.

It isn’t considered a specific disease but rather it’s a general umbrella term to describe an overall deterioration in someone’s memory or cognitive abilities.

Dementia can further be divided into numerous types of dementia based on the cause.

Different types of dementia include Alzheimer’s Disease, Vascular Dementia, Lewy Body Dementia, and Frontotemporal Dementia.  

Alzheimer’s Disease is one cause of dementia (the most common cause).

For more information about dementia and how to manage it, read our post What Caregivers Need to Know about Dementia.

doctor holding sign alzheimer's disease

 

About Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s Disease is a common cause of dementia that usually affects people over 65 years old.

Up to 80% of dementia cases are believed to be caused by Alzheimer’s Disease.

Alzheimer’s tends to worsen over time, to the point that eventually, people need help to do daily activities.

  • Our brains change with age, but Alzheimer’s Disease is not a normal part of aging; instead, it destroys brain tissue and abnormal brain cells.
  • Some of the top risk factors for Alzheimer’s Disease are people older than 65, women, and those with a family history.
  • At first, memory loss may be mild, but over time the memory gets worse. As the disease progresses, the ability to carry on a conversation gets more complicated.
  • Most people live on average between 4 – 7 years after getting diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, but note they can live as long as 20 years.
 
 

What Causes Alzheimer Disease?

Doctors think genes play a significant role in Alzheimer’s Disease, but it is unknown for sure what causes it.

It seems that the disease is caused by abnormal substances that build up in the brain and eventually kill brain cells.

As more brain cells die, the brain does not function as well.

 

 

 

dementia brain with questions marks what's the difference between dementia and alzheimer's disease

 

What Are Some Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s disease causes many of the same symptoms we see in other types of dementia, but the most common early symptom of Alzheimer’s is having trouble remembering newly learned information.

There are three general stages of Alzheimer’s Disease: early, middle, and late (also called mild, moderate, and severe).

People may progress through these stages differently, and the stages may overlap at times. Alzheimer disease causes problems with:

  • Memory
  • Using language
  • Personality
  • Thinking clearly

People may experience different symptoms, even in the early stages. For example, you may notice they are

  • forgetting something that just happened,
  • misplacing items,
  • having difficulty thinking of the right word, or
  • having trouble organizing things.
 

As the disease progresses to the middle stages, symptoms can include:

  • confusion on what day it is or where they are,
  • being forgetful about personal information like their address or telephone number,
  • difficulty controlling their bladder or bowels,
  • wandering,
  • changes in sleep patterns, and
  • being moody or withdrawn.
 

Late-stage Alzheimer’s symptoms may include such things as:

  • lack of awareness of surroundings,
  • not recognizing familiar faces,
  • needing constant care with routine personal maintenance,
  • a decline in physical abilities like walking or swallowing,
  • unable to hold their urine, and
  • difficulty communicating
 
 
 
 

young female doctor reviewing documents difference between dementia and alzheimer's disease

 

Treatment for Alzheimer’s Disease

Although currently no cure for Alzheimer’s, there are medicines and other things that can improve the quality of life.  

Your provider should discuss options that may help treat symptoms. Treatment addresses areas like helping maintain mental function and managing behavioral symptoms.

For additional information on Alzheimer’s Disease, read our post What is Alzheimer’s Disease?

 

Additional Resources

It can be frustrating and stressful when caring for someone with dementia. Some may become exhausted, depressed and may slow down caring for their own physical and mental well-being. 

 

For tips on caring for someone with dementia, including Alzheimer’s Disease, please read our blog post:  What Caregivers Need to Know about Dementia. 

Self-care is critical for caregivers to stay healthy. Read more in our bog post Self-Care Tips For Caregivers.

To find what resources are available for you, read of post: What are Community Resources and How to Find Them.

Thinking About Hiring an In-Home Caregiver?

Read our post: Hiring a Caregiver for In Home Help

Read our post Understanding Home Health Care to get in-depth information about the services usually provided for those in need of home care.

 

 

For Additional Information on Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease:

Alzheimer’s Association

Alzheimer’s Foundation of America

National Institute on Aging

National Institute on Aging. Alzheimer’s Caregiving  

 

 

References:

Alzheimer’s Association: What is Alzheimer’s Disease?

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services: National Institute on Aging: Alzheimer’s Disease Fact Sheet 

Alzheimer’s Association: What is Dementia? 


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