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Alzheimer's Disease and Dementia - What is the Difference?

There is often confusion regarding the difference between Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. These terms have historically been used interchangeably, but they are not the same! Public education is vital to breaking the stigma of talking about Alzheimer's Disease and other types of dementia.


Difference Between Dementia and Alzheimer's Disease

Dementia is an overall term and syndrome, not a disease, which encompasses many symptoms. Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia. There are several types of dementia, and not everyone with dementia has Alzheimer’s disease, although it is the most common type.


An info graphic showing an umbrella that says "Types of Dementia." On the left side under the umbrella, it says, "Dementia is an umbrella term for loss of memory and other thinking abilities severe enough to interfere with daily life." The right side uder the umbrella lists types of dementia which are, "Alzheimer's, vascular, lewy body, frontotemporal, other including huntington's, and mixed dementia from more than one cause."

What is Dementia?

Dementia is a decline in mental function that may be reversible or treatable, depending on the disease process at the root of the dementia. Dementia can occur at any stage of life, whereas Alzheimer’s is more likely to occur in the elderly population.

Other causes of dementia include: vascular (hypertension), Lewy Bodies, Huntington’s Chorea, drug or alcohol addiction, Parkinson’s Disease, thyroid disease, brain tumors, adverse reaction to medication, vitamin deficiency, frontotemporal damage or stroke, and metabolic or electrolyte abnormalities.


What is Alzheimer's Disease?

Alzheimer's Disease is the most common type of dementia and usually affects people 65 and older. The National Institute on Aging defines Alzheimer's Disease as, "a brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills, and eventually, the ability to carry out the simplest tasks." The effects of Alzheimer's Disease on the brain include amyloid plaques, clumps of beta-amyloid protein, and tau tangles, bundles of fibers, which affect neuron communication as well as memory & thinking.


Alzheimer's Disease can be traced back to many different causes. These include genetic factors, other health issues or diagnoses, lifestyle changes, and simply aging. Scientists, doctors, and researchers are conducting ongoing studies to determine the root causes of Alzheimer's and how to combat the disease. It is suggested for aging adults to remain as healthy as individually possible through maintaining physical activity, social interaction, and healthy eating.

Symptoms of Dementia

  • Decline in memory

  • Change in thought process

  • Poor judgment – inability to problem solve

  • Loss of attention span

  • Diminished communication skills – loss of language capabilities

  • Perceptive disability

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease

  • Difficulty remembering newly learned information

  • Disorientation and apathy

  • Mood and behavior changes – depression or hallucinations

  • Loss of swallowing abilities

  • Gait changes – history of falls or loss of balance

  • Loss of bowel and bladder control

  • Sleep disturbances


Treatment for Alzheimer's Disease and Dementia

Treatment for Alzheimer’s is limited to temporarily improving symptoms or slowing the progression of the disease with medications such as Aricept and Exelon, which assist with memory loss. Alzheimer’s disease is also treated with antipsychotic medications that aid in behavioral changes. Antidepressants and sleep aids provide some treatment for those with mood changes and insomnia.

Treatment for dementia depends on the underlying cause such as treating high blood pressure, rehab and anticoagulant therapy for stroke victims, addressing any and all metabolic or electrolyte disorders, treating Parkinson’s with specific anti-Parkinson’s medications such as Carbidopa/Levodopa, and treating Lewy Body dementia with Alzheimer’s medications discussed above. Alcohol and drug addiction will be treated with medications and rehab therapy, which may cause the dementia to lessen or be cured altogether.

Simply stated, dementia is an umbrella term that covers many types of symptoms and causes. Sources: Mindstart.com Healthline.com AARP.org MayoClinic.org

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