Healthy Living

Dementia vs. Alzheimer Disease: What’s the Difference?

Dementia vs. Alzheimer Disease: What’s the Difference?

Dementia is a brain disorder that affects communication and causes difficulty in performing daily tasks. Alzheimer’s disease, on the other hand, affects the parts of the brain that control language, thought, and memory. It is a specific form of dementia.

Though dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are used interchangeably, both terms are not the same. Dementia describes the overall symptoms that impact communication abilities, performance of daily tasks, and memory. The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. With time, this disease worsens and affects language, memory, and thought.

Though neither are associated with aging, the risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s disease increases as individuals age. It is important to distinguish both of them for the purpose of management and treatment, even though the symptoms overlap each other. 

Dementia

Groups of symptoms that do not have a definitive diagnosis are referred to as syndrome. Dementia is a syndrome, not a disease. Groups of symptoms that affect the mental cognitive tasks such as reasoning and memory are referred to as dementia. Alzheimer’s disease falls under this term. There are a variety of reasons one can develop dementia. One such reasons is Alzheimer’s disease. 

Mixed dementia: When people experience more than one type of dementia, it is known as mixed dementia. This dementia may arise due to multiple conditions which can only be confirmed by autopsy.

The ability of the body to function independently may become affected as dementia progresses. Disability of older adults is caused by dementia.

The estimated number of people that are living with dementia worldwide is currently at 47 million, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). It is also expected that this number will increase to 75 million by the year 2050.

There are various forms of dementia such as:

Symptoms of Dementia

The early symptoms are mild and often overlooked. Initially the person experiences simple episodes of forgetfulness. Individuals with dementia usually do not keep track of time and tend to lose their way in familiar settings. Other signs of dementia include:  

  • Inadequate hygiene
  • Repetitive questioning
  • Poor decision making
  • Inability to care for oneself (often found in advanced stages). The person affected will no longer remember people or places that were previously familiar to them. Additionally, they will constantly lose track of time. This behavior could lead them to become aggressive or depressed.

Causes

With advanced age, the risk of developing dementia increases. Dementia is caused by damage to certain brain cells. This damage interferes with the brain cells' ability to communicate with each other. When the brain cells are unable to communicate properly, feelings and behavior can be affected. Degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and Huntington’s can cause damage to the brain cells. Other causes include:

  • Vascular disease
  • Depression
  • Stroke
  • Chronic drug use
  • HIV infection or other infections

Alzheimer’s Disease

A group of symptoms that negatively impact memory is known as Alzheimer’s. This disease slowly causes impairment of cognitive function and memory. It is a progressive disease. No cure is available and the exact cause is still unknown. In the United States, it is estimated that more than 5 million people suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, according to the National Institutes of Health. The symptoms of Alzheimer’s generally manifest after the age of 60; however, younger people have been known to develop the disease as well.

In the UK, more than 520,000 people are affected by Alzheimer’s disease. According to the Alzheimer’s Society, the slow deterioration of the brain, that is seen in Alzheimer’s patients, is attributed to the decrease of chemical messengers in the brain. Because of this lack of chemical messengers, the signals are not transmitted effectively around the brain; thus, leading to deterioration. The symptoms worsen and gradually lead to the patient losing the ability to care for themselves.  

A variety of screenings are used by physicians to determine the exact cause of dementia. These include mental status evaluations, blood tests, and brain scans.

The early symptoms of Alzheimer disease include:

  • Forgetting regular events, names, faces, and places.
  • Misplacing things or putting things in odd places.
  • Asking repetitive questions after a brief period of time.
  • Uncertainty about the time, places, and dates.
  • Frequently gets lost or forgets familiar locations.
  • Difficulty in speech or selecting the right words.
  • Irritability, low mood, anxiousness, loss of self-confidence, disinterest in current events.

Effect of Alzheimer's Disease on the Brain

Damage to the brain, that leads to Alzheimer’s, can occur years before the symptoms of the condition begin to manifest. A person with Alzheimer’s disease may have formation of plaque and tangles due to abnormal protein deposits. There is significant shrinkage of the brain in advanced cases.

It is difficult to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease in a living person with complete accuracy. During an autopsy, when the brain is examined under a microscope, the diagnosis can be confirmed. However, up to 90 percent of the time, diagnosis can be confirmed.

Alzheimer’s Disease vs. Dementia: The Symptoms

Though symptoms may overlap, these two conditions have their differences.

The common symptoms in both conditions are:

  • Reduced ability to think
  • Communication impairment
  • Memory impairment
  • Difficulty performing familiar tasks
  • Losing track of time and place
  • Frequently misplacing items
  • Mood changes
  • Changes in behavior
  • Trouble with images
  • Trouble with spatial relationships
  • Withdrawal from social activities
  • Withdrawal from work

The symptoms of Alzheimer’s include:

  • Depression
  • Apathy
  • Impaired judgment
  • Confusion
  • Behavioral changes
  • Disorientation
  • Difficulty swallowing or speaking
  • Difficulty walking (advanced cases)
  • Difficulty remembering recent events or conversations.

Some of these symptoms can be shared by certain types of dementia. However, other symptoms may or may not be present. This difference in symptoms can help determine diagnosis. For example, a person with Lewy body dementia will likely experience initial symptoms such as difficulty balancing, visual hallucinations, and sleep disturbances. Later, the symptoms become similar to Alzheimer’s symptoms. A person with dementia caused by Huntington’s disease or Parkinson’s disease, in the initial stages, may experience involuntary movements.

Dementia vs. Alzheimer’s Disease: The Treatment

The exact cause and type of dementia will determine the treatment. However, the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia may overlap. 

Alzheimer Disease Treatment

Since there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, the main goal of treatment is to help the patient manage the symptoms.

  • Antipsychotics are often used for behavioral changes.
  • For memory loss, medications used include cholinesterase inhibitors such as donepezil (Aricept), memantine (Namenda), and rivastigmine (Exelon).
  • Coconut oil or fish oil can be used as alternative remedies to boost brain function and overall health.
  • Medications for sleep changes and depression.

Dementia Treatment

Treating the underlying cause may help treat dementia. Cases of dementia caused by the following conditions are most likely to respond to treatment: 

Dementia is not reversible in most cases; however, it is a treatable condition. Treatment for dementia is determined by identifying the underlying cause of the dementia. Cholinesterase inhibitors are used by doctors to treat Lewy body dementia, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and dementia.

Treatment option used for vascular dementia focuses on preventing stroke and preventing brain blood vessels from being damaged.

Supportive services from health aides might help people with dementia. As the disease progresses, an assisted living facility or a nursing home may be required.

Dementia vs. Alzheimer’s Disease: The Outlook

The exact cause of dementia determines the outlook for dementia patients. For dementia caused by Parkinson’s, treatment is currently available to manage symptoms; however, there is no medication available that can stop or slow it down. For vascular dementia, there are treatments available that can slow the condition’s progress, but this does not extend the patient’s life span. Though a majority of dementia types are irreversible, some forms are reversible. The irreversible types cause more impairment in patients.

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. It is a terminal illness. The estimated life span, on average, for a person with Alzheimer’s disease after diagnosis is nearly four to eight years. However, there are some who have lived up to twenty years.

If you feel that you are experiencing any symptoms of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, talk to you doctor. Prompt treatment for symptoms will help in better managing the symptoms.

The Difference Between Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease

Dementia is a group of symptoms that persistently occur together. It is a syndrome and not a specific disease. Common symptoms of dementia include issues with memory loss, problem solving, thinking, and language. Damaged brain cells cause dementia. Since Alzheimer’s destroys the brain, it accounts for nearly 50-70 percent of the cases of dementia. In fact, Alzheimer’s disease is considered one of the more common causes of dementia. Sometimes, the terms “senile” or “senile dementia” are incorrectly used to describe dementia. The belief that dementia is a normal part of the aging process is incorrect.

The symptoms of dementia vary greatly, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Additionally, they have also stated that dementia includes factors such as:

  • Communication and language problems
  • Memory trouble
  • Inability to focus or pay attention
  • Difficulty in judgement
  • Difficulty in reasoning
  • Issues with visual perception

There is no specific test that helps determine if someone has dementia. Physicians diagnose Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia based on medical history, lab tests, physical examination, and changes in thinking, daily function, and behavior. Physicians can often easily determine if a patient has dementia; however, it is far more difficult to determine the exact type. This is because the brain changes and symptoms of different dementias can overlap.

Though both terms represent the same condition, they are not exactly the same. Almost two thirds of dementia cases are due to Alzheimer’s disease.  

Public Awareness and Research

It is important that families dealing with this disease be aware of the differences between both dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. However, in order to differentiate between the two, more public awareness is needed. It is also necessary to learn exactly what causes Alzheimer’s disease. Doing so will lead to better treatment plans, clear confusion, and ultimately bring society one step further to curing the disease.

Key Takeaways

  • In the United States, it is estimated that more than 5 million people suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, according to the National Institutes of Health.
  • Groups of symptoms that do not have a definitive diagnosis are referred to as syndrome. Dementia is a syndrome, not a disease.
  • Though neither are associated with aging, the risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s disease increases as individuals age.