When it comes to memory disorders, many people are confused as to what the differences are between Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease.dementia vs alzheimer's

In fact, many people believe the two mean the same thing – they’re often assumed to be synonymous. However, the two words mean two different things. 

Dementia is a general term for the progressive decline in one’s memory and mental ability, severe enough to interfere with their daily lives. Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common cause for Dementia. Alzheimer’s is actually a specific disease, whereas Dementia is not.

In this article, we will cover the difference between Alzheimer’s and Dementia, as knowing the difference between these two things is vitally important for individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s or another form of Dementia, and their families and caregivers.

 

What is Dementia?

As previously mentioned, Dementia is the name for a group of brain disorders which affect one’s ability to remember things, think clearly, control one’s emotions, and make sound decisions. Alzheimer’s Disease is just one of the many disorders that falls under the “dementia” category. There are several other types of disorders that can cause dementia, that also fall into the “dementia” category. 

If you forgot that new coworkers name, or where you parked at the mall, you don’t have dementia. 

A person with dementia would have a hard time with at least two of the following:

  • Clear Communication and Speech
  • Memory Decline
  • Concentration and Focus
  • Judgment and/or Reasoning Skills
  • Visual Perception (may see things which are not really there, a difficult time seeing various colors, etc.)

Many patients with dementia experience a progressive decline in their ability to perform the above list of items. Generally speaking, symptoms of dementia, or dementia symptoms, get worse overtime. 

Here are some Examples of Symptoms of Dementia:

  • Short-term and/or long-term memory problems
  • Issues with keeping track of a wallet or purse
  • Forgetful when it comes to paying bills
  • Preparing and planning meals at random
  • Forgetting doctors appointments or other obligations
  • Wandering out of the neighborhood (Wandering is likely a sign of Alzheimer’s Disease)

 

What Causes Dementia?

Our brain has several distinct regions, each of which are responsible for a variety of different functions. For example, some areas of the brain are in charge of our memory, others our physical movement, etc. 

Dementia is caused when damage occurs to the brain cells in one’s brain. Once damaged, different regions of the brain difference between alzheimer's and dementiacannot communicate with each other correctly. When this happens, it impacts a person’s ability to perform normal activities of daily living (ADLs), as well as their ability to communicate, think, and behave “normally”.

Since dementia comes in many different forms, each affect a particular area of the brain and damage different types of brain cells. For example – in Alzheimer’s disease, there are high levels of certain proteins both inside and outside brain cells that make it difficult for those brain cells to remain healthy and communicate effectively with each other. The center of how we learn and keep a strong memory is almost entirely done within the Hippocampus region of the brain. In Alzheimer’s patients, the Hippocampus, and the brain cells within this region, are the first to be damaged. Hence, memory loss is one of the earliest signs of Alzheimer’s disease. 

Although the majority of changes that occur within the brain causing dementia are permanent and likely to worsen overtime, there are other conditions that may cause thinking and memory problems that will improve once the condition itself improves.

These Conditions Include:

  • Depression and/or Anxiety
  • Side Effects of Medication
  • Drinking Alcohol in Excess 
  • Problems with the Thyroid
  • Vitamin Deficiencies (a person’s body is deficient in a particular type of vitamin – your doctor can test for this)

 

Diagnosis of Dementia

Unfortunately, we have not developed the technology to be able to perform one single test in order to determine if someone has dementia or not. 

Instead, doctors are able to diagnose Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia based on the patient’s medical history, their family medical history, a physical examination, the changes in their characteristic day-to-day function, laboratory tests, and the behavior exhibited by the patient. By performing these assessments, a doctor is able to diagnose dementia in a patient with quite a high level of certainty. 

While diagnosing a patient with dementia is one thing, determining what type of dementia they are suffering from can be a much more tasking effort. This is because various types of dementia can cause brain changes that overlap – with many types of dementia exhibiting similar symptoms. In cases where the type of dementia cannot be clearly determined, a doctor may diagnose their patient with “dementia”, without specifying what type. If this happens to you or a loved one, it’s a good idea to visit a specialist, such as a Neurologist or Gero-Psychologist who can help pinpoint exactly what type of dementia you’re dealing with.

 

Dementia Risk & How to Prevent Dementia

As with any disease, there are some risk factors that are simply out of your control. These dementia risk factors include your age, medical history and genetics. On the other hand, researchers continue to explore the different dementia risk factors that are in your control, which may have a negative effect on the health of your brain.

By adopting a healthier and more active lifestyle, including consuming a healthy and well-rounded diet, avoiding any type of smoking, and making both physical and cognitive stimulation exercise a part of your daily routine, you can help prevent dementia – According to the research reported at the 2019 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference. As a side note, the research observed at this conference also suggests that a healthy and active lifestyle can prevent your risk of any type of cognitive decline. It’s worth mentioning, researcher’s suggest that lowering stress levels may also help prevent short-term memory loss problems.

 

Dementia Treatment 

Treatments for dementia solely depend on the root cause. It is much more difficult to treat dementia in patients who do not know what type of dementia they’re dealing with. That is why you should see a neurological specialist if your primary care doctor is unable to confidently diagnose you with a specific type of dementia.

Progressive dementias, such as Alzheimer’s disease, there is no cure and not much as far as treatment options that will stop or slow the progression down. That said, there are some drug treatments that could possibly improve dementia symptoms temporarily. Again, it will depend on what type of dementia you’re diagnosed with. 

Your doctor may prescribe certain medications known to treat Alzheimer’s disease, even if you’ve been diagnosed with a different type of dementia. There are also some non-drug therapies for dementia that may alleviate some of the negative symptoms you’re experiencing. You can ask your doctor for all your dementia treatment options. 

With this in mind, remember that there are effective new treatments for dementia going through research and clinical studies as we speak. Hopefully soon these treatments will be available to the public.

 

What is Alzheimer’s Disease?

In its most basic description, Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia in which an individual develops problems with their memory, thinking, logic and behavior. Generally, Alzheimer’s symptoms will slowly increase in severity over time, eventually becoming disabling to the point of significant interference with one’s daily tasks.what is alzheimer's disease

Alzheimer’s disease is the most commonly diagnosed type of dementia, with the disease accounting for 60% – 80% of every single dementia case. Contrary to popular belief, Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of the human aging process. Although the greatest known risk factor for Alzheimer’s is increasing age, and with the majority of Alzheimer’s patients over the age of 65, it is not just a disease of “old age”. In fact, approximately 200,000 Americans under the age of 65 have younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease (also referred to as “early-onset Alzheimer’s).

As a progressive disease, Alzheimer’s symptoms of dementia worsen over time. In the early stages, memory loss may be minor. However, late-stage Alzheimer’s symptoms include the inability to carry on a conversation and the inability to respond naturally to one’s environment. 

Fact: Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. 

According to statistics, on average a person with Alzheimer’s will live four to eight years post-diagnosis, but can live up to 20 years after diagnosis, depending on several factors. As of now, Alzheimer’s has no cure, but there are treatments available to help ease the negative symptoms of Alzheimer’s. As with dementia, there are ongoing research and clinical trials in regards to finding a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, there is always hope. 

 

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease:

  • The most common symptom of Alzheimer’s is difficulty remembering basic things, particularly newly learned information.
  • As the disease progresses, one might experience disorientation
  • Mood and behavior changes
  • A deeper confusion regarding events (either past or present)
  • Confusion as to what time or place it is
  • New-found suspicions about family members or friends, caregivers or doctors
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Difficulty walking
  • Difficulty swallowing

 

What Causes Alzheimer’s Disease?

Long before someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, their brain experiences microscopic changes over a period of several years.

The human brain has over 100 billion nerve cells, called “neurons”. Neurons connect with each other in order to form difference between dementia and alzheimer'scommunication networks to function. Groups of neurons attach to one another, and have specific jobs. Some are a part of the thought process, some are for learning and others for remembering things. Of course, we also have neuron groups that are responsible for our sense of smell, eye-sight, and hearing.

These groups of neurons operate like you could imagine tiny factories to operate. They receive supplies, generate energy, construct equipment and get rid of waste. They store information and communicate with each other, neuron cluster to neuron cluster. It requires coordination, large amounts of fuel and oxygen to keep this tiny factory running at full-speed.

According to scientists, Alzheimer’s disease interrupts the smooth-running tiny factory inside the brain and prevents it from operating efficiently. As of now, scientists are not sure as to where the first interruption takes place, but just like a real factory, breakdowns and backups in the process begin to slow everything down. Other areas of the brain start to experience problems due to the bottle-neck that is Alzheimer’s disease. The damage spreads, and the neurons in our brain are unable to do their jobs correctly. They eventually die, causing irreversible damage and changes in the brain.

 

Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease

Unfortunately, we have not developed the technology to be able to perform one single test in order to determine if someone has dementia or not. 

Instead, doctors are able to diagnose Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia based on the patient’s medical history, their family medical history, a physical examination, the changes in their characteristic day-to-day function, laboratory tests, and the behavior exhibited by the patient. By performing these assessments, a doctor is able to diagnose dementia in a patient with quite a high level of certainty. 

While diagnosing a patient with dementia is one thing, determining what type of dementia they are suffering from can be a much more tasking effort. This is because various types of dementia can cause brain changes that overlap – with many types of dementia exhibiting similar symptoms. In cases where the type of dementia cannot be clearly determined, a doctor may diagnose their patient with “dementia”, without specifying what type. If this happens to you or a loved one, it’s a good idea to visit a specialist, such as a Neurologist or Gero-Psychologist who can help pinpoint exactly what type of dementia you’re dealing with.

 

Alzheimer’s Risk & How to Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease

High cholesterol levels in the blood, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity can all play a factor in a person’s risk for Alzheimer’s disease. These health issues may also increase one’s risk for cardiovascular diseases, such as a heart attack or stroke. If you smoke, you may also be increasing your chances of being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

It’s been shown that those who consume an excessive amount of alcohol may be putting their health at risk in many ways, including potentially increasing their chance of receiving an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. In addition to these risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease, research shows that people with a low level of education, as well as those who do not participate in regular cognitive exercises to sharpen the brain, are at an increased risk of getting the disease. 

Can Alzheimer’s be prevented?

Although Alzheimer’s may not have an exact answer as to how one could prevent being diagnosed with the disease, research has proven that there are several ways to lessen your chances of getting Alzheimer’s. A population-based study suggests that factors associated with overall good health significantly reduce the risk of any type of dementia and/or cognitive decline from occurring. Scientists say you should always avoid smoking, eat a healthy diet, keep your vascular risk factors at bay (high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes), take care of your mental health, and be both physically and socially active. By doing so, you’ll decrease the chances of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis.

 

Plaques and Tangles in Alzheimer’s

There are two abnormal structures called plaques and tangles that are the suspects in damaging, and eventually killing, neurons and nerve cells. 

Plaques – Plaques are deposits of protein fragment known as beta-amyloid, which build up within the spaces between neurons and nerve cells.

Tangles – Tangles are composed of another type of protein called tau, that twists its fibers together and accumulate inside cells. 

It’s normal for an aging adult to develop some level of plaques and tangles as they age. That said, people with Alzheimer’s develop far more than the average person, and they are built up in a particular pattern – beginning in the areas most important for memory, then spreading to other regions of the brain. 

Unfortunately, scientists don’t know exactly what role plaques and tangles play in the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. That said, through autopsy reports, we’ve been able to directly link excessive plaques and tangles within the brain of those who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease prior-to passing on. Most experts solidly believe that these plaques and tangles play a significant and critical role in blocking one’s communication among neurons and nerve cells, killing them off and causing dementia symptoms.

 

How are Dementia and Alzheimer’s Different?

When a person receives a dementia diagnosis, they are being diagnosed with a “set” of symptoms. 

Think of it this way: When someone is diagnosed with a sore throat, they know that their throat is sore, but it is not yet known what is causing that particular symptom. It could be the common cold, a bug going around, or allergies. Just like someone being diagnosed with dementia, they are experiencing dementia symptoms without being told what the root cause is, of those symptoms they’re experiencing. 

One of the most significant differences between dementia and Alzheimer’s, is that Alzheimer’s disease is not reversible. It is degenerative and currently – incurable. On the other hand, there are some types of dementia that are curable with drug interaction or fixing a vitamin deficiency.

If needed, see a specialist who can give you a proper and specific diagnosis for the dementia symptoms you’re experiencing. Once the root cause of the dementia symptoms is found, the appropriate treatment can begin. Until a proper diagnosis is made, the best approach when dealing with a person who is suffering from dementia symptoms is to be patient, loving and offer communication.

 

Conclusion 

Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are two terms that are often confused for being the same thing. Now that you understand the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia, hopefully you’ll be able to see the signs of dementia early on and discuss treatment options with your doctor.