What is Dementia: The Difference Between Dementia and Alzheimer's

What is Dementia: The Difference Between Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease

Although often considered synonyms, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are not the same. Whether you’re a caregiver or someone experiencing early onset symptoms, it’s important to understand the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

At the Long Island Alzheimer's and Dementia Center, we provide a range of innovative services to help your loved one living with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia find a higher quality of life. Continue reading to learn more about the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

What Is Dementia?

Dementia is an umbrella term used for a range of brain disorders that hamper the ability to make decisions, think clearly, remember, and even control your emotions. You are more likely to develop dementia with age and it can be the result of damaged brain cells. Alzheimer’s disease is only one type of dementia, but there are a vast range of causes and types of dementia, including:

  • Mixed dementia
  • Frontotemporal dementia
  • Lewy body dementia
  • Parkinson’s disease dementia
  • Huntington’s disease
  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease

Other causes of dementia can include chronic drug use, depression, vascular disease, infections, and stroke. Each type of dementia causes damage to a unique set of brain cells.

Diagnosing Dementia

In order for a person to be diagnosed with dementia, they will typically have significant difficulty with a minimum of two of the following:

  • Judgement and reasoning
  • Cognitive difficulties
  • Speech and communication
  • Visual perception
  • Concentrating and focusing
  • Recalling important everyday tasks

Considering different types of dementia may share relatively similar symptoms, it can present a challenge for practitioners to accurately diagnose your loved one’s condition. A medical assessment for dementia typically includes a medical history, physical exam and neurological tests.

What Is Alzheimer’s Disease?

The National Institutes of Health estimate that over 5 million people in the United States suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s is a very specific type of progressive dementia that usually affects those over the age of 65.  Alzheimer’s disease is the result of the buildup of fibers and proteins in the brain that block nerve signals and destroy nerve cells.

While younger people can get diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, most of the symptoms do not begin until later in life. The Center for Disease Control estimates that Alzheimer’s disease causes anywhere from 50 to 70% of all dementia cases.

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s can include confusion, impaired thought, and other cognitive impairments. At first, memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s may be minimal, but the symptoms progress over time. If your loved one suffers from Alzheimer’s, it can become increasingly difficult to perform everyday tasks or even carry on conversations. Mood changes, aggression, and confusion are other common symptoms associated with the disease.

How Is Alzheimer’s Diagnosed?

While a physician may not be able to diagnose Alzheimer’s with 100% certainty, there are several diagnostic tests they can do. One of the most prevalent types of testing used to determine Alzheimer’s is taking images of the brain with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This type of testing utilizes powerful radio waves and magnets to make detailed pictures of the brain. Additional tests include:

  • Examining MRI images of the brain
  • Attention testing
  • Language

Difference Between Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia

If your loved one has been diagnosed with dementia, they are essentially being diagnosed with a set of symptoms. Similar to someone with a headache — their head hurts, but it may not be understood what is causing the symptom. Among others, it could be sinus pressure, high blood pressure, a brain freeze, or more serious conditions like brain tumors.

When someone has dementia, they are essentially experiencing symptoms without being told what is actually causing the symptoms. Let’s take a closer look at a few key areas that may highlight more differences between Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Symptomatic Differences Between Alzheimer’s Symptoms and Dementia

The symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease can and often overlap. Shared symptoms may include memory impairment, reduced cognitive ability, and impairment of communications. The symptoms most commonly seen for Alzheimer’s disease tend to include:

Although some forms of dementia will share these symptoms, they will typically exclude or include other symptoms that can assist in diagnosis. For instance, Lewy body dementia (LBD) has several of the same symptoms as Alzheimer’s, but those with LBD may experience initial symptoms like sleep disturbances, balance problems, and hallucinations.

Outlook for Dementia vs. Alzheimer’s Patients

Alzheimer’s disease is not curable or reversible and is degenerative. However, certain forms of dementia can be temporary and may be reversible.

Alzheimer’s Treatments vs. Dementia Treatments

While no cure for Alzheimer’s is currently available, there are a range of options designed to help manage the condition, such as medications for behavioral changes, memory loss, sleep changes, and depression. In addition, Long Island Alzheimer's and Dementia Center offers several highly-effective therapies for each stage of Alzheimer’s:

Similar to Alzheimer’s disease, there are many forms of treatment available to treat the condition that causes dementia. Long Island Alzheimer's and Dementia Center’s innovative programs address each stage, including pre-diagnosis, and are customized to the diagnosed individual’s progression.

Contact the Long Island Alzheimer's and Dementia Center

At Long Island Alzheimer's and Dementia Center, our mission is to enhance the quality of life for those living with Alzheimer’s and other related forms of dementia. We actively work to achieve our mission through a variety of different programs for each stage of Alzheimer’s disease, as well as:

Our goal is to make a positive difference in the lives of those impacted by Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia — one person, one family, one community at a time.

About the Author Long Island Alzheimer's and Dementia Center

At the Long Island Alzheimer's and Dementia Center, our mission is to improve the quality of life for those living with Alzheimer’s disease and related forms of dementia, and their caregivers. We actively work to achieve this mission through research-based programming for all stages of Alzheimer’s, Caregiver Support Groups, in-home respite solutions, transportation options, and additional services.

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