Often people use the terms dementia and Alzheimer’s to talk about the same thing, usually to describe symptoms that affect your memory. But are Dementia and Alzheimer’s the same? The short answer is no. We break down Dementia vs. Alzheimer’s and the differences to help you understand both these terms better.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease are not the same thing. Dementia is a term that is often used to describe symptoms that are seen that affect your memory, communication, and day-to-day activities. Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common type of Dementia. It is a progressive disease which means as time goes on, symptoms get worse and affect more and more brain functions such as memory, language, and mobility.
Multiple symptoms overlap between Dementia and Alzheimer’s, but it is crucial to know the difference to get the proper treatment and management.
Dementia vs. Alzheimer’s
Dementia is a name given to several symptoms that affect your memory, and these symptoms impact your independence with daily activities. Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common type of dementia & progressive disease of the brain with no cure that slowly causes damage to memory and cognitive functions.
What is Dementia?
Dementia is a term that is used when individuals are experiencing symptoms that affect their memory, communication skills, and thinking and these symptoms become severe enough to impact their performance with daily tasks.
Dementia usually develops in those 65 years and old, thus how it gets the name, “Late life disease.” With that being said, Dementia is not a normal part of aging. It is caused by damage that occurs within your brain cells that affects your memory, communication, feelings, and behaviors.
- Symptoms of Dementia
There are many different symptoms of Dementia. Individuals with Dementia may see all of these symptoms, whereas some may only see a few. It is common for your symptoms to get more severe as Dementia progresses.
Common symptoms of Dementia include:
- Struggles with Memory
- Asking questions multiple times
- Struggling to find the right word to say
- Difficulties dealing with money and numbers
- Mood swings/mood changes quickly
- Changes in Behavior
- Changes in Personality
- Trouble sleeping
- Causes of Dementia
Scientists have found many causes that lead to Dementia. The leading cause of Dementia is when brain cells are damaged.
Other factors include trauma from strokes, brain tumors, or head injuries. These cause damage to the cells and then eventually death to the cells located in an individual’s brain that are living with Dementia.
Other causes can be from:
- Vitamin B12 or E deficiencies
- Thyroid Issues
- Drug use
- Stages of Dementia
There are seven progressive stages of Dementia that are broken down into three main stages. These stages include:
- Types of Dementia
Many different types of Dementia exist. The most common ones are:
- Alzheimer’s Disease: Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common cause of Dementia. It is a physical disease that affects the brain. Since Alzheimer’s Disease is progressive, symptoms will get worse over time.
- Vascular Disease: Vascular Disease develops when the blood supply is reduced. This occurs when there is narrowing or blockage in the blood vessels. Brain cells become damaged in the process. This can happen suddenly or be gradual.
- Lewy Body Dementia: Lewy Body Dementia is the second most common type of Dementia. Lewy Body Dementia occurs when protein deposits, called Lewy Bodies, develop in the nerve cells. Lewy Body Dementia usually happens quickly. It affects your thinking, memory, and movements. Hallucinations are also very common in Lewy Body dementia.
- Parkinson’s Disease Dementia: Parkinson’s Disease Dementia develops in individuals with advanced Parkinson’s Disease. Common symptoms include poor judgment and reasoning. Lewy Body Dementia and Parkinson’s Disease Dementia have many of the same abnormalities in the brain processing.
- Mixed Dementia: Mixed Dementia is when you have one or more types of Dementia. The most common dementia combination is Alzheimer’s and Vascular. 10% of individuals living with Dementia have more than one type. Researchers believe this number is higher because the only way to know for sure if you have more than one type of Dementia is to have an autopsy done to confirm two forms are present.
- Frontotemporal Dementia: Frontotemporal Dementia is developed in the brain that controls your judgment, speech, movement, emotions, and planning in the frontal and temporal lobes.
- Huntington’s Disease: Huntington’s Disease is passed down from generation to generation. It is a DNA malfunction in the Huntington gene. This gene causes damage to your brain and affects your mental, physical, and emotional abilities. This usually occurs between ages 30 and 50 but can also be present as young as two or as late as 80.
- Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease: Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease is a very rare, fatal disease, often within one year of being diagnosed with it. The prions (proteins) cause the good proteins in your brain to fold, causing abnormal shapes that cause Dementia symptoms. This progresses very quickly.
- Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus: Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus is caused by excess fluid that is built up in the brain’s ventricles. When there is too much fluid, it causes too much pressure on the brain that causes dementia symptoms. This is one type of Dementia that may be able to be fixed with surgery if caught soon enough.
- Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome: Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome is caused by a lack of B-1 vitamin deficiency that causes the lower part of your brain to bleed.
- How do you manage Dementia?
Currently, there are no cures for Dementia. There are only treatments to help manage symptoms. Ways to help manage Dementia include:
- Healthy diet
- Regular exercise
- Regular doctor visits
- Good Sleep Schedule
- Good Support system
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s Disease is a disorder in the brain that affects your memory, thinking, and behavior. Researchers believe that over 6 million Americans over 65 years of age are currently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common form of Dementia and the 6th leading cause of death within the US. Not only does it affect your cognitive abilities, but it affects your day-to-day activities.
- Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease
Memory loss is the number one symptom of Alzheimer’s Disease. The symptoms that are most common in Alzheimer’s are:
- Memory loss
- Trouble with Thinking and Reasoning
- Poor Judgement
- Poor Decisions
- Difficulty performing familiar tasks
- Changes in personality
- Changes in Behavior
- Causes of Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s Disease is caused by abnormal buildups of proteins that form amyloid plaques and tangles. Researchers believe that this begins about ten years before the first noticeable symptom. In individuals with Alzheimer’s Disease, researchers notice that healthy neurons stop functioning and lose connection with other neurons, which causes them to die. The initial damage caused by Alzheimer’s Disease occurs in the hippocampus and the entorhinal cortex. This is where many of your memories are formed, which is why individuals with Alzheimer’s Disease see a loss of memory as one of the first symptoms.
- Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease
There are seven stages of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Stage 1: Before Symptoms are seen
Stage 2: Becoming forgetful
Stage 3: Noticeable Memory Changes
Stage 4: Cognitive Changes
Stage 5: Loss of Independence
Stage 6: Severe Alzheimer’s Disease
Stage 7: Mental and Physical Impairment
- Management of Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s Disease is not reversible. There are things you or your loved ones living with Alzheimer’s Disease can do to help slow and manage it. These include:
- Behavior Management
Alzheimer’s vs. Dementia Symptoms
While many symptoms of Alzheimer’s and Dementia are similar, there are some differences that are worth pointing out.
Both Alzheimer’s and Dementia symptoms include:
- Struggles with the ability to think
- Memory Impairment
- Communication Impairment
Alzheimer’s Symptoms only include:
- Struggles remembering events and conversations that recently happened
- Poor judgment
- More confused
- Changes in behavior
- Difficulty speaking
Many of these Alzheimer’s symptoms are shared by other types of Dementia. So how can you tell which are symptoms of Dementia vs. Alzheimer’s? Usually, it is because they include or exclude other initial symptoms that help doctors confirm which type of Dementia individuals have.
Treatment of Alzheimer’s vs. Dementia
There is no cure for Alzheimer’s or Dementia. The focus is put on treatment to help manage symptoms. Treatments for Dementia depend on what type of Dementia is present, but the treatment for Alzheimer’s and Dementia will have some overlap.
Treatments for both Alzheimer’s and Dementia:
- Cholinesterase inhibitors- help with memory loss
- Glutamate inhibitors– help aid with learning and memory
- Sleep Medication– help manage trouble with sleeping
- Antidepressants– Help fight depression from Alzheimer’s or Dementia
- Antipsychotic Medications– help with behavioral changes
- Good Support system
Living with Alzheimer’s vs. Dementia
Living with Dementia directly relates to the type of Dementia that you have. For instance, for individuals living with Parkinson’s Disease, there are treatments available to make your Dementia more manageable, but there is no cure to stop or slow it down. Vascular Dementia can be slowed for some individuals, but individuals with Vascular Dementia will still have a shortened life.
Alzheimer’s Disease is a progressive disease that is a terminal illness. There is no cure currently available. On average, after a diagnosis is made, individuals living with Alzheimer’s have approximately 4 to 8 more years to live, although some can live with it for up to 20.
If you or a loved one see symptoms of Dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease start to develop, you will want to see a doctor to develop a treatment plan to help manage current and future symptoms and plan for the future.