Understanding the Difference Between Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease

difference between dementia and alzheimer's Senior Living Tips & Advice

Understanding the Difference Between Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease

Many people today may assume one of two things about Alzheimer’s and dementia: they are one in the same disease or vastly different.

The reality? They are neither of these things.

Yes, these diseases have distinctly similar characteristics. But in order to manage these diseases, the inner workings must be understood.

So what’s the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s? Find out more in this blog…

Defining the Difference between Dementia and Alzheimer’s

We understand, the statement above couldn’t be more conflicting. How can dementia and Alzheimer’s be neither the same nor completely different?

The key differentiating factor is that dementia is used as an umbrella term for symptoms caused by a number of different diseases.

Whereas Alzheimer’s is a specific disease all on its own. So are dementia and Alzheimer’s the same? The answer is both yes and no.

Essentially, Alzheimer’s is its own disease, whereas its symptoms are a condition of dementia. This means that most people who have Alzheimer’s will eventually develop symptoms of dementia.

Alzheimer’s: the Cause of Dementia

In 60 to 80% of people who suffer from Alzheimer’s, they will most likely develop dementia over time.

While there are several different causes of dementia, Alzheimer’s is the most common across the globe.

Throughout the United States today, over 5.3 million people suffer from Alzheimer’s.

So what are the key characteristics of Alzheimer’s?

  • Progressive memory loss – specifically short-term memory
  • Changes in cognitive skill i.e. focus, recognition, reasoning
  • Changes in behavior i.e. withdrawal, confusion, agitation, aggression

Currently, the exact cause of Alzheimer’s is largely unknown. But research has pinned down two contributing factors, including:

  1. The build-up of beta-amyloid proteins which form plaques between nerve cells in the brain.
  2. The build-up of tau proteins which form tangles within the cells of the brain.

Alzheimer’s is a degenerative disease which causes irreversible damage to the nerve cells in the brain- there is currently no cure.

Despite this, millions of Dollars is poured into research each year to better understand this disease.

Medications such as cholinesterase inhibitors and memantine are used to manage Alzheimer’s and manage its symptoms.

Dementia and its Many Forms

As mentioned, dementia is used as a term to describe a number of different diseases, all caused by the degeneration of nerves in the brain.

This is where the overlap between dementia and Alzheimer’s becomes prominent.

Two of the most common forms of dementia include vascular dementia (VaD) and Lewy Body dementia. Both of these are degenerative diseases which cause irreversible damage to the brain.

1. Vascular dementia

This form of dementia is caused by any condition which damages blood vessels in the brain.

These conditions may include a stroke, heart disease, diabetes, atherosclerosis, brain trauma (repeat concussion) and hypertension.

Treatment of these conditions cannot reverse the damage done to the brain but can help to prevent further damage.

Symptoms are very similar to those with Alzheimer’s, including cognitive impairment, disorientation, difficulty thinking, agitation, and aggression.

2. Lewy Bodies Dementia

Also known as DLB, this form of dementia accounts for nearly 10% of all dementias.

This form of dementia is caused by an accumulation of abnormal protein deposits in the brain, known as Lewy Bodies.

DLB is most commonly mistaken as Alzheimer’s due to the distinct overlap of symptoms.

However, distinguishing symptoms of DLB include visual hallucinations, tremors, rigidity, loss of autonomic regulation and sleep disorders.

Just some of the rarer forms of dementia include:

  • Frontotemporal dementia
  • Huntington’s Disease
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease

All of the above are slowly degenerative with their own set of distinct symptoms, yet a number of which also overlap between each disease.

Looking for Long-Term Memory Care?

At Maple Heights Senior Living we specialize in assisted living and care for those with cognitive disorders.

Whether you’re looking to learn the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s or how to offer the best care for a loved one, our experts are here to help.

Take a tour of our facility and get to know us better!