By Adinah East
VP Quality Improvement
Caring People Inc.
Many people confuse the terms dementia and Alzheimer’s. While they are often used interchangeably, there are distinct differences between the two conditions. In this article, we are going to explore the question, “what’s the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia?”
In a nutshell, dementia is not a disease, but rather a collection of symptoms that crop up when the brain cells cease to work as they should. Conversely, Alzheimer’s is classified as a disease.
Three Facts That Explain, “What’s the Difference Between Alzheimer’s and Dementia?”
Firstly, there are about 200 types of dementia, so being diagnosed with dementia doesn’t automatically mean you have Alzheimer’s. For instance, you may have one type of dementia, such as dementia with Lewy bodies or vascular dementia.
Secondly, is Alzheimer’s a form of dementia? Well, dementia is an umbrella term that describes a range of symptoms that people may experience, particularly when referring to brain disorders. Alzheimer’s is the most well-known of the brain disorders and the most common cause of dementia.
Thirdly, the major difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s is that when someone is diagnosed with dementia, they are usually diagnosed based on symptoms. In Alzheimer’s, the cause of the symptoms is understood, but the disease is not reversible. However, some dementia symptoms, like drug interaction or nutritional problems can be reversed.
Alzheimer’s vs. Dementia Symptoms
While Alzheimer’s vs. Dementia symptoms can overlap, there are a few differences. Both conditions may cause:
- Impairment in communication
- Memory impairment
- A decline in thinking skills
The symptoms of dementia tend to vary depending on the cause. Common symptoms include:
- Cognitive Changes, including difficulty with:
- Problem-solving and reasoning
- Organizing and planning
- Memory loss
- Motor functions and coordination
- Disorientation and confusion
- Psychological Changes, including:
- Personality changes
Several kinds of progressive dementias are not reversible, and the cause is unknown. These include:
- Frontotemporal dementia – a group of diseases that are characterized by the degeneration of nerve cells in the temporal and frontal lobes of the brain, which are areas associated with language, behavior, and personality.
- Lewy body dementia – Lewy bodies are clumps of protein that are found in the brain of people who have Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, and Lewy body dementia. This is one of the most common kinds of progressive dementia.
- Vascular dementia – this is the next most common kind of dementia which seems to occur when the vessels that supply blood to the brain are damaged. Problems with blood vessels can be caused by different blood vessel conditions or stroke.
Alzheimer’s Disease Symptoms
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia in people over the age of 65. While the reasons of the disease remain unknown, tangles and plaques are commonly found in the brains of Alzheimer’s sufferers. Tangles are fibrous tangles that are made up of tau protein. Plaques are clumps of protein referred to as beta-amyloid. Some genetic factors can make it more likely for people to develop Alzheimer’s disease. Common symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease include:
- Getting confused in unfamiliar environments
- Change in mood and personality
- Memory loss, especially with memory for recent events, like asking questions repetitively or forgetting names and messages
- Difficulty finding the right words
- Difficulty with activities and tasks that require planning and organization
- Difficulty with numbers and handling money in stores
Dealing with a Loved One Who Has Dementia
Caring for an elderly relative who has dementia can be challenging. Use these 10 tips for communicating with your loved one:
- Set a positive mood for communication by being respectful and pleasant.
- Get the person’s attention by limiting noise and distraction.
- Clearly state your message.
- Ask simple questions that they will be able to answer.
- Listen with your ears, heart, and eyes and watch for nonverbal cues.
- Break activities down into smaller steps.
- When your loved one becomes agitated or upset, try changing the environment or the subject.
- Respond with reassurance and affection.
- Remembering the past can be affirming and soothing.
- Keep your sense of humor and get your relative to laugh along with you.
In summary, when considering the question, “what’s the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia,” Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia, with both conditions consisting of overlapping symptoms.