Understanding the Difference Between Dementia and Alzheimer’s

Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are two common and significant memory conditions that can develop as we age. They share several characteristics, but are actually two different forms of cognitive decline.

Dementia, while not a disease, is a collection of symptoms that affect the brain and create challenges with communication and the ability to perform routine tasks. Alzheimer’s, on the other hand, is a progressive disease that impairs brain function over time. It’s a form of dementia that affects memory, language in particular.

Outlined below are several distinctions to help show the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Dementia

According to Dementia Care Central, health professionals often discuss dementia in stages, early-, middle- or late-stage, which helps determine the best treatment approach and gives caregivers a better understanding of how it’s impacting their loved one.

The goal is to understand the cause of the symptoms, and then address treatment. Drug interactions or vitamin deficiency, for example, can cause dementia and may be treatable. Other possible causes of dementia include:

  • Alzheimer’s disease: the leading cause of dementia
  • Brain damage due to injury or stroke
  • Huntington’s Disease
  • Lewy Body Dementia (LBD)
  • Early warning signs of dementia include:
  • Subtle short-term memory loss, such as forgetting where you left an item, something that you were supposed to do on a given day, or struggling to recall why you entered a room
  • Difficulty explaining something or finding the right words to express yourself
  • Depression, anxiety, or changes in mood
  • Losing interest in hobbies or activities, or withdrawal from social situations
  • Confusion, such as difficulty remembering faces, or interacting normally with people
  • Struggle following along with conversations or TV programs
  • Deterioration in sense of direction and spatial orientation, such as not recognizing once-familiar landmarks and forgetting regularly used directions
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Struggling to adapt to change. A sufferer with dementia might crave routine and fear change.

Mild forgetfulness and memory problems are a common part of aging and can occur due to other factors, such as fatigue, stress or poor diet. However, if you or your loved one experiences symptoms of dementia, schedule time to talk with your physician. Early onset can affect someone as young as in their 30s, 40s or 50s, but with early diagnosis and treatment, you can slow the progressions and maintain mental function.

Alzheimer’s Disease

It’s estimated that 50 – 70 percent of those with dementia have Alzheimer’s disease. For an accurate Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis, a doctor will perform a variety of tests including blood tests, brain scans and psychological exams. Symptoms of Alzheimer’s include:

Cognitive: mental decline, difficulty thinking and understanding, confusion in the evening hours, delusion, disorientation, forgetfulness, mental confusion, inability to concentrate, create new memories, to do simple math, or to recognize common things

Behavioral: aggression, agitation, difficulty with self-care, irritability, meaningless repetition of own words, personality changes, lack of restraint, wandering or getting lost

Mood: anger, apathy, general discontent, loneliness, mood swings

Psychological (issues that often accompany Alzheimer’s): depression, hallucination, paranoia

Physical: loss of appetite or restlessness

Also common: inability to combine muscle movements, jumbled speech

Contact your doctor immediately if you or a loved one are experiencing any combination of the symptoms above. The sooner a diagnosis is made, the sooner you can get back to living your most healthy, vibrant life!

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Sources: Mayo Clinic

Dementia Care Central

Healthline