dementia vs alzheimers disease

Dementia vs Alzheimer’s Disease

Dementia vs Alzheimer’s Disease

Dementia vs Alzheimer’s Disease: Dementia is the term applied to a group of symptoms that negatively impact memory, but Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease of the brain that slowly causes impairment in memory and cognitive function


What Is Dementia?

Dementia is the name for a group of brain disorders that make it hard to remember, think clearly, make decisions, or even control your emotions. Alzheimer’s disease is one of those disorders, but there are many different types and causes of dementia.

Dementia isn’t just about simple memory mishaps — like forgetting someone’s name or where you parked. A person with dementia has a hard time with at least two of the following:

  • Memory
  • Communication and speech
  • Focus and concentration
  • Reasoning and judgment
  • Visual perception (can’t see the difference in colors or detect movement, or sees things that aren’t there)

Since some types of dementia share similar symptoms, it can be hard for a doctor to figure out which one you or your loved one has. Be sure to tell them about all symptoms, medication and alcohol use, and previous illnesses to help them make the right diagnosis.


Types of Dementia

Vascular dementia: This is the second most common type. About one in 10 people who have dementia have vascular dementia, which happens when there’s not enough blood going to your brain. This can be caused by damage to your blood vessels or blockages that lead to mini-strokes or brain bleeding. Doctors used to call it multi-infarct or post-stroke dementia.

Unlike Alzheimer’s disease, memory loss isn’t the typical first symptom. Instead, people with vascular dementia can have different signs, depending on the area of the brain that’s affected, such as problems with planning or judgment. The FDA hasn’t approved any drugs to treat this type of dementia, but you can do some things to keep your brain and blood vessels healthy and try to prevent future damage. These include exercising, eating well, and not smoking.


Dementia with Lewy bodies: Lewy bodies are abnormal clumps of a protein called alpha-synuclein. They build up in your cortex, the part of your brain that handles learning and memory.

This type of dementia causes problems with attention and things like driving early on, along with sleeping issues, seeing things that aren’t there (hallucinations), and slowed, unbalanced movements, similar to Parkinson’s disease symptoms. Amnesia (memory loss) tends to show up later in the disease.


Mixed dementia: Sometimes, a person has brain changes caused by more than one type of dementia. This is called mixed dementia. For example, you may have blocked or damaged blood vessels in your brain (vascular dementia) and brain plaques and tangles (Alzheimer’s disease) at the same time.


Frontotemporal dementia (FTD): This form of dementia involves the loss of nerve cells in the front and side areas of your brain — behind your forehead and ears. Personality and behavior changes and trouble with language are the main symptoms. Some people also have a hard time with writing and comprehension.

Symptoms usually show up around age 60 — earlier than they usually start with Alzheimer’s disease. Types of frontotemporal dementia include behavioral variant FTD (bvFTD), primary progressive aphasia, Pick’s disease, corticobasal degeneration, and progressive supranuclear palsy.


Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD): This rare form of dementia happens when a protein, called a prion, folds into an abnormal shape, and other prions start to do the same. This damages brain cells and triggers a fast mental decline.

People with CJD also have mood changes, confusion, twitchy or jerky movements, and trouble walking. Sometimes, the disease is passed down through families, but it also can happen for no known reason. One type, called variant CJD (or mad cow disease, also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy), has spread from cattle to people in certain situations.


Huntington’s disease: This is caused by a problem with a gene you get from one of your parents. It affects the central part of your brain — the area that helps you think, move, and show emotion.

Symptoms typically start between ages 30 and 50. Uncontrolled arm, leg, head, face, and upper body movements are the first signs. The brain changes also lead to problems with memory, concentration, judgment, reasoning, and planning. People with Huntington’s disease also have issues with depression, anger, and crankiness. There’s no known cure for it.


Normal pressure hydrocephalus: The Alzheimer’s Association includes this buildup of spinal fluid in the brain as a form of dementia. Symptoms include slowed thinking, problems with decision making, trouble concentrating, behavior changes, difficulty walking, and loss of bladder control. It typically strikes adults in their 60s or 70s. Surgery to put a shunt in your brain to get rid of extra fluid can help.


Alzheimer’s Disease (AD)

This is the most common type of dementia. About 60% to 80% of people who have dementia have Alzheimer’s. It’s a progressive condition, which means it gets worse over time, and it usually affects people over 65 years old. There’s currently no cure.

It happens when proteins (called plaques) and fibers (called tangles) build up in your brain and block nerve signals and destroy nerve cells. Memory loss may be mild at first, but symptoms get worse over time.


Common Alzheimer’s symptoms include:

  • Trouble remembering names, events, or conversations
  • Problems concentrating
  • Personality changes, like not caring about things you used to, mistrust of others, or aggression
  • Mood changes
  • Depression
  • Impaired judgment or decision making
  • Confusion


It gets more difficult to carry on a conversation or do everyday tasks. A doctor can’t say you have Alzheimer’s with absolute certainty, but there are things they can do to be fairly sure. They include testing your attention, memory, language, and vision, and looking at images of your brain. These images are taken with an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) machine, which uses powerful magnets and radio waves to make detailed pictures.


Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurologic disorder that causes the brain to shrink (atrophy) and brain cells to die. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia — a continuous decline in thinking, behavioral and social skills that affects a person’s ability to function independently.

Approximately 5.8 million people in the United States age 65 and older live with Alzheimer’s disease. Of those, 80% are 75 years old and older. Out of the approximately 50 million people worldwide with dementia, between 60% and 70% are estimated to have Alzheimer’s disease.

The early signs of the disease include forgetting recent events or conversations. As the disease progresses, a person with Alzheimer’s disease will develop severe memory impairment and lose the ability to carry out everyday tasks.

Medications may temporarily improve or slow progression of symptoms. These treatments can sometimes help people with Alzheimer’s disease maximize function and maintain independence for a time. Different programs and services can help support people with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers.

There is no treatment that cures Alzheimer’s disease or alters the disease process in the brain. In advanced stages of the disease, complications from severe loss of brain function — such as dehydration, malnutrition or infection — result in death.


Memory loss is the key symptom of Alzheimer’s disease. Early signs include difficulty remembering recent events or conversations. As the disease progresses, memory impairments worsen and other symptoms develop.

At first, a person with Alzheimer’s disease may be aware of having difficulty remembering things and organizing thoughts. A family member or friend may be more likely to notice how the symptoms worsen.

Brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s disease lead to growing trouble with:


Everyone has occasional memory lapses, but the memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s disease persists and worsens, affecting the ability to function at work or at home.

People with Alzheimer’s may:

  • Repeat statements and questions over and over
  • Forget conversations, appointments or events, and not remember them later
  • Routinely misplace possessions, often putting them in illogical locations
  • Get lost in familiar places
  • Eventually forget the names of family members and everyday objects
  • Have trouble finding the right words to identify objects, express thoughts or take part in conversations

Thinking and reasoning

Alzheimer’s disease causes difficulty concentrating and thinking, especially about abstract concepts such as numbers.

Multitasking is especially difficult, and it may be challenging to manage finances, balance checkbooks and pay bills on time. Eventually, a person with Alzheimer’s may be unable to recognize and deal with numbers.

Making judgments and decisions

Alzheimer’s causes a decline in the ability to make reasonable decisions and judgments in everyday situations. For example, a person may make poor or uncharacteristic choices in social interactions or wear clothes that are inappropriate for the weather. It may be more difficult to respond effectively to everyday problems, such as food burning on the stove or unexpected driving situations.

Planning and performing familiar tasks

Once-routine activities that require sequential steps, such as planning and cooking a meal or playing a favorite game, become a struggle as the disease progresses. Eventually, people with advanced Alzheimer’s often forget how to perform basic tasks such as dressing and bathing.

Changes in personality and behavior

Brain changes that occur in Alzheimer’s disease can affect moods and behaviors. Problems may include the following:

  • Depression
  • Apathy
  • Social withdrawal
  • Mood swings
  • Distrust in others
  • Irritability and aggressiveness
  • Changes in sleeping habits
  • Wandering
  • Loss of inhibitions
  • Delusions, such as believing something has been stolen

Preserved skills

Many important skills are preserved for longer periods even while symptoms worsen. Preserved skills may include reading or listening to books, telling stories and reminiscing, singing, listening to music, dancing, drawing, or doing crafts.

These skills may be preserved longer because they are controlled by parts of the brain affected later in the course of the disease.

Treating Other Types of Dementia vs Alzheimer’s Disease 

Neither Alzheimer’s nor most other types of dementia have a cure. Doctors focus treatments on managing symptoms and keeping the disease from getting worse.


Some of the treatments for dementia and Alzheimer’s overlap.

  • Cholinesterase inhibitors can help with memory loss in certain types of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
  • Glutamate inhibitors help with learning and memory in both dementia and Alzheimer’s.
  • Sleep medications may help with sleep changes.
  • Antidepressants can help with depression symptoms.
  • Antipsychotic medications may help with behavior changes.


Some types of dementia respond to treatment, depending on what is causing it. Your doctor may recommend:

  • Stopping the use of drugs and alcohol
  • Tumor removal
  • Treating a B12 deficiency
  • Treating hydrocephalus (extra fluid on the brain)
  • Getting blood sugar under control
  • Thyroid medication


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