What is the Difference Between Alzheimer's and Dementia?

Published April 6th, 2022 by Erik Rivera
Fact Checked by
Jacqueline Hensler
Medically Reviewed:
Chris Riley

There are many different types of dementia, the most common of which is Alzheimer's disease. Dementia is a general term used to describe a decline in mental ability that affects daily life.

Alzheimer's disease specifically refers to a form of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking, and behavior, and knowing the difference between the two will help with your treatment and management of either one.

In this article, we will take a closer look at the difference between Alzheimer's and dementia, as well as the symptoms and treatments for both conditions and the prognosis if you have either.

What is dementia?

Dementia is a syndrome and it is an umbrella term that refers to a decline in cognitive function which can include memory loss, confusion, an inability to reason, and changes in mood and behavior.

Dementia can significantly impair your ability to carry out everyday activities and your risk for it increases as you age.

There are multiple types of dementia and it is possible that you can suffer from more than one type at once.

Around 55 million people have dementia around the world according to the World Health Organization and it is the fifth leading cause of death globally.

dementia infographic

What are the symptoms of dementia?

There are three stages of dementia symptoms: early-stage symptoms, progressive stage symptoms or middle stage symptoms, and advanced stage symptoms or late-stage symptoms.

The symptoms that occur will be dependent on your stage of dementia.

The symptoms and signs of dementia for each stage are as follows:

Early symptoms

Early symptoms can include:

  • Occasional forgetfulness
  • Difficulty with problem-solving and planning
  • Losing track of time
  • Becoming lost in familiar places

Progressive symptoms

Progressive symptoms can include:

  • Frequent forgetfulness such as forgetting recent events or people's names
  • Confusion even in usual settings such as at home
  • Repetitive questioning
  • Poor hygiene and needing help with personal care
  • Wandering
  • Difficulty communicating

Advanced symptoms

Advanced symptoms include:

  • Being unaware of time and place
  • Not recognizing familiar people like family and friends
  • Increased inability to care for yourself
  • Difficulty walking
  • Mood swings that can include aggression and depression

What causes dementia?

The underlying cause of dementia is not always known, but you are at a greater risk for it as you age.

Dementia is caused by damage to the brain cells, and this can be the result of a number of different factors such as:

  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Stroke
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Huntington's disease
  • Vascular diseases
  • Drug use

Risk factors for developing dementia include depression, race, social isolation, low educational attainment, cognitive inactivity, andair pollution.

What are the different types of dementia?

Dementia is not a disease but is classified as a syndrome, which means it has many symptoms that do not have a defined diagnosis.

The fact that dementia is a syndrome can be confusing because there are a number of different types or kinds of dementia, and it is possible to suffer from more than one type at the same time.

The most common types of dementia include:

Alzheimer's disease

Alzheimer's is the most common type of dementia and according to the World Health Organization could contribute to 60-70% of all dementia cases.

Vascular dementia

Vascular dementia is the second most common form of dementia and is caused by a lack of blood flow to your brain which can damage it. It is usually associated with stroke or a buildup of plaque which can restrict blood flow in your arteries.

Dementia with Lewy bodies

Dementia with Lewy bodies is caused by abnormal protein deposits in the brain. When you have dementia with Lewy bodies it can cause changes in your mood, movement, and thinking abilities.

Frontotemporal dementia

Frontotemporal dementia is a rare type of dementia that affects the frontal lobe of your brain. The symptoms of frontotemporal disorders often start with changes in your behavior and personality and can lead to a decline in your language skills and memory.

Parkinson's disease dementia

Parkinson's disease dementia is a type of dementia that affects people who have Parkinson's and is estimated to occur in at least half of the patients with Parkinson's. It can cause problems with movement, thinking, and can even lead to hallucinations among many other symptoms.

Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease

Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is a rare and fatal brain disorder that affects your nervous system. It is caused by an abnormal protein called a prion, which can damage your brain. Most people with this disease die within a year.

Huntington's disease

Huntington's disease is a rare genetic disorder that causes damage to certain cells in your brain and can cause problems with movement and mood and can even cause psychosis.

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy is a type of progressive degenerative brain disease that is caused by repeated head injuries. It has been found in athletes, military veterans, and others with a history of repetitive head trauma and can only definitively be diagnosed by brain tissue analysis after death.

Normal pressurehydrocephalus

Normal pressure hydrocephalus is a type of dementia that is caused by a buildup of fluid in the spinal column. The fluid buildup can subsequently put pressure on your brain and damage its cells, leading to symptoms such as confusion, changes in personality, and problems with movement.

Posterior cortical atrophy

Posterior cortical atrophy is a rare type of dementia that affects the back part of your brain. It can cause problems with vision and visual perception, movement, and the understanding of language.

Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome

Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is a type of dementia that is caused by a deficiency of vitamin B1 and it often affects people who abuse alcohol or are malnourished. It can result in problems with movement, vision, and memory.

Mixed dementia

Mixed dementia is a type of dementia that is caused by more than one type of damage to the brain. For example, if you suffered from Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia then you would be diagnosed with mixed dementia.

What is Alzheimer's disease?

Alzheimer's disease is a type of dementia that is neurodegenerative, meaning it causes damage to brain cells which eventually leads to death.

The symptoms often start slowly and get worse over time. It is typically diagnosed if you are over 65 although you can get it at any age. There is no cure for Alzheimer's disease.

difference-between-dementia-alzheimers

What are the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease?

The symptoms of Alzheimer's disease can vary from person to person, but often include a decline in memory, thinking, and communication.

Similar to dementia, Alzheimer's symptoms will vary depending on the stages of the disease. The stages and symptoms include:

Early stage

If you have early stage Alzheimer's your symptoms will include impairment of both your learning and memory.

Middle stage

In the middle stage of Alzheimer's, your symptoms will worsen and can include problems with abstract thinking skills, impaired judgment, complex motor skills, speaking, writing, reading, wandering, irritability, and planning.

Late stage

In the late stage of Alzheimer's, you will lose your ability to communicate and may become completely dependent on others for your care. You may also experience changes in mood and behavior, such as becoming agitated, depressed, exhausted, or paranoid. Eventually, your speaking will decline until you lose all ability to speak.

What are the differences in symptoms between Alzheimer's disease and dementia?

The difference between dementia and Alzheimer's disease symptoms can be hard to distinguish.

Similar to dementia, Alzheimer's disease is typically characterized by impaired memory, thinking, and communication.

Dementia can be caused by a variety of things, and your doctor will often use the timeline of when certain symptoms started occurring to determine the diagnosis.

What causes Alzheimer's disease?

Alzheimer's disease is caused by damage to the cells in your brain that leads to the death of those cells. T

he underlying cause of that cell damage is still unknown, but scientists believe it may be due to a combination of genetics and lifestyle choices.

What are the treatments for both dementia and Alzheimer's disease?

There is no cure for Alzheimer's disease but some forms of dementia can be reversed. However, there are treatments that can help to improve the quality of life for those living with either condition.

Removing the cause of dementia, for example, if your dementia is caused by drug use it may be reversed if you stop abusing drugs, but most forms of dementia will not be cured.

Treatments for both may include medications, therapy, and lifestyle changes.

What is the prognosis if you have dementia or Alzheimer's?

The prognosis for someone who has dementia or Alzheimer's disease will vary depending on the stage of the disease, your age, and other health conditions you may have.

Most people with dementia will eventually need full-time care. Those with Alzheimer's disease often live for an average of eight years after diagnosis, but it can range from two to 20 years.

Summary

Dementia is a general term used to describe a wide range of symptoms that are caused by damage to the brain and some forms of it can sometimes be reversed.

Alzheimer's disease is a specific type of dementia that is neurodegenerative and causes the death of brain cells which leads to cognitive decline and there is no known cure.

The difference in symptoms between Alzheimer's disease and dementia can be hard to distinguish but after close monitoring of your symptoms, your doctor will be able to diagnose your condition.

The cause of Alzheimer's disease is still unknown but scientists believe it may be due to a combination of genetics and lifestyle choices.

There are treatments available to improve the quality of life for those living with either condition.

The prognosis for someone who has dementia or Alzheimer's disease will vary depending on the stage of the disease, your age, and other health conditions you may have.

Since there is no cure, if you have Alzheimer's you will eventually need full-time care. Those with Alzheimer's disease often live for an average of eight years after diagnosis, but it can range from two to 20 years.

If you have any more questions about dementia or Alzheimer's disease, please talk to your doctor or health care provider.

References and Sources:

Alzheimer's Association

World Health Organization

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