Most people think of dementia and Alzheimer’s as two similar but separate diseases, like a cold and the flu.
While this might be partially true in one way, however, dementia and Alzheimer’s are not the same thing.
What is the difference between dementia vs alzheimer’s? We will explain everything in this article.
Dementia VS Alzheimer’s
Dementia is a general word used to describe a set of symptoms that affect a person’s memory, their ability to communicate, and the performance of everyday tasks.
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia.
Dementia is a syndrome and not a disease itself. Syndrome means a group of symptoms that doesn’t have a technical diagnosis. The group of symptoms that dementia represents affect cognitive abilities, including reasoning and memory.
An umbrella term, dementia is where you would categorize Alzheimer’s. Similar to the way that the word “car” is a general term and a Ford Taurus would fall under the category of “car”, not truck or motorcycle.
Dementia can occur due to a variety of issues, the most common of which is Alzheimer’s.
This means that a person can have more than one type of dementia. When this happens, it is called mixed dementia. Persons with multiple conditions that contribute to dementia often have mixed dementia, however, mixed dementia can only be confirmed via autopsy.
Common Symptoms of Dementia
In the early stages, dementia is often overlooked. Episodes of forgetfulness, losing track of time, and losing their way in familiar places are common.
Over time, these episodes of forgetfulness and feelings of confusion happen more frequently and/or for longer periods of time.
Those with dementia will ask the same question over and over, not understand the answers provided, have poor decision-making capabilities, and forget how to perform basic hygiene tasks, such as brushing their teeth.
In the late stages, patients are unable to care for themselves. They can forget their own name, suffer from hallucinations, and become depressed or angry.
The Causes of Dementia
Dementia occurs with age. Brain cells become damaged in one way or another. Diseases that can cause dementia include Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, and Alzheimer’s disease. Different sets of brain cells become damaged, depending on the health problem involved, which is why some people experience different symptoms than others.
Other causes of dementia include:
- Chronic drug use
- HIV or other infections
- Vascular problems
Alzheimer’s is a brain disease that slowly causes memory problems and other cognitive misfunction. This disease generally strikes those who are over 65 but can affect younger persons.
From the time diagnosis is made until the time of death varies, with persons over 80 having a life expectancy of only 3 years and younger persons much longer. The average person diagnosed at 70 lives an average of 7 years.
However, damage to the brain occurs years before the symptoms start. Unusual protein deposits form tangles and plaque in the brain. This causes the connections between cells to disappear and brain cells to die. In late stages, the brain shows substantial shrinking.
It can be almost impossible to accurately diagnose a person with Alzheimer’s while they are living. The diagnosis can only be 100% confirmed through an autopsy, however, most experts can make a correct diagnosis in as many as 90% of cases.
The Difference Between Dementia VS
While both vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s share the fact that both fall under the dementia category, there are distinct differences between the two.
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, with more than 5 million Americans suffering from this disease.
Vascular dementia is estimated to affect as much as 4% of the population over the age of 65. After 65, this number doubles every 5 years.
Vascular dementia is usually caused by a specific event, such as a transient ischemic attack or stroke, where blood flow to the brain was temporarily interrupted. This can also occur over time if there are very small blockages in the brain or if the supply of blood to the brain is slowed.
Alzheimer’s cause is not completely understood but most scientists agree that it is probably a combination of problems including a poor diet, genes, and environmental factors.
For those with vascular dementia, the lack of cognitive function occurs suddenly after a stroke, then remains stable for a period of time.
However, with Alzheimer’s, memory and the ability to perform tasks gradually decreases over time, rather than occurring as a sudden change.
Dementia VS Alzheimer’s Symptoms
Both of these brain conditions cause:
- Impaired communication abilities
- Impaired memory
- Gradual decline in the ability to think clearly
Alzheimer’s Symptoms Also Include:
- Difficulty in remembering recent events, people, or conversations
- Poor judgment skills
- Behavior changes, such as paranoia and suspicion
- Difficulty walking, swallowing, or speaking in advanced stages
While some type of dementia will also share some of Alzheimer’s symptoms, they might exclude or include other symptoms that will make a diagnosis difficult.
Looking at dementia vs
While there is no cure for either dementia or Alzheimer’s, many of the treatment options are similar and will overlap.
Doctors talk in terms of management, rather than “cure.”
These diseases are often managed by offering medication to combat depression or sleep problems, medications for memory loss, and alternative means of improving brain function, such as fish oil or coconut oil supplements.
Dementia treatment can involve the above drugs, as well as other treatments, depending on the cause. Treatments can include addressing hypoglycemia, tumors, metabolic issues, and other health problems that might have contributed to dementia.
The Bottom Line
When determining dementia vs Alzheimer’s, the prognosis for dementia will depend on the cause of dementia. Parkinson’s, for example, offers drugs and treatments to make the symptoms of dementia manageable, although there is no way to slow the progression of this type of dementia.
Alzheimer’s, however, is a terminal disease and there is no cure. While some people can live 20 years or more with this disease, most people have a lifespan of 7 years after diagnosis.