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Alzheimer’s Disease vs Dementia

Although they share many symptoms and are often used interchangeably, “Alzheimer’s” and “dementia” are not the same.

What Is the Difference Between Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia?

Both Alzheimer’s disease and dementia negatively impact memory, thinking ability and behavior, but dementia is not a specific disease. Rather, it is an umbrella term that refers to a group of cognitive and behavioral symptoms that are oftentimes progressive.

Some common types of dementia include:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Lewy body dementia
  • Vascular dementia
  • Frontotemporal dementia
  • Mixed dementia, or dementia from more than one cause

Disorders and diseases that may cause dementia symptoms:

  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Hodgkin’s disease
  • Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease

Conditions that may cause dementia symptoms and may be managed or even reversed with treatment:

  • Thyroid problems
  • Vitamin deficiencies
  • Normal-pressure hydrocephalus
  • Immune disorders
  • Side effects from certain medications
  • Brain tumors
  • Brain bleeds

As noted in the list above, Alzheimer’s disease is only one type of dementia, but it is the most common form, accounting for 60-80% of dementia cases.

Alzheimer’s vs Dementia Causes

Dementia develops when brain cells in a specific region of the brain are damaged due to infection or disease. The damage prevents brain cells from communicating properly with each other, affecting memory, thinking, reasoning, personality, mood and behavior.

Experts have not found a definitive cause for Alzheimer’s, though they believe the disease is caused by a combination of several factors, including age, family history, lifestyle and physiological changes to your brain.

Alzheimer’s vs Dementia Signs and Symptoms

We recognize as you age, cognitive or behavior changes can be concerning for you and your loved ones. Differentiating the symptoms of Alzheimer’s from related dementias can be difficult. Many of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease can overlap with those of dementia-related diseases, but there are some differences.

Both Alzheimer’s and dementia have the following symptoms:

  • Memory loss that interferes with daily life, including forgetting recent conversations and repeating comments or questions
  • Noticeable loss in the ability to process information, also known as cognitive decline
  • Trouble with communication, such as struggling to complete a thought

Alzheimer’s disease also presents many other symptoms, such as:

  • Difficulty remembering recent events or conversations
  • Apathy, a lack of interest, enthusiasm or concern
  • Depression, suspicion, anxiety and/or fearfulness
  • Decreased or poor judgment or decision-making abilities
  • Disorientation and/or confusion
  • Behavioral changes, or acting out of character
  • Trouble with basic motor functions such as speaking, swallowing and walking

While there are types of dementia that share symptoms with Alzheimer’s disease, these types of dementia often include other symptoms that help in making a definitive diagnosis. For example, those with Lewy body dementia share many of the later stage symptoms of Alzheimer’s, but are more likely to experience early symptoms such as visual hallucinations, sleep disturbances and difficulty with balance

Alzheimer’s vs Dementia Treatment

The unique care model we offer at Banner’s memory care centers of excellence is the only one of its kind. The personalized treatment and compassionate care our Alzheimer’s specialists provide are designed to manage you or your loved one’s symptoms, providing the best chance to live life well.

Medications for Alzheimer’s cannot cure Alzheimer’s disease, but they can help manage the following symptoms:

  • Behavioral changes
  • Memory loss
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Depression and/or anxiety

While most cases of dementia cannot be cured, treatment plans targeting the cause of dementia may prevent symptoms from worsening. For example, treatment for vascular dementia will focus on preventing stroke and further damage to the brain’s blood vessels.

Dementia treatments are most effective when treating dementia symptoms caused by:

  • Medications
  • Brain tumor
  • Metabolic disorders
  • Hypoglycemia

If you're noticing changes in yourself or someone you care about, it's important to reach out to a clinical expert, like those at Banner Alzheimer’s Institute (BAI) and Banner Sun Health Research Institute (BSHRI), as soon as possible. An early stage Alzheimer's diagnosis can provide access to more treatment and care options, and a better chance at preserving cognitive function.