Due to the similarities in symptoms, it is common for individuals to use the terms dementia and Alzheimer’s disease interchangeably. However, they are not the same thing, and if you are caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia, it’s helpful to understand some of the differences between the two.
Read on to learn more about the differences between Alzheimer’s disease and dementia and how they’re related.
What is Dementia?
The Alzheimer’s Association defines dementia as the set of symptoms associated with memory loss and cognitive impairment. It is a general term used to describe many different types of dementia – including Alzheimer’s disease. There are many types of dementia as well as conditions that cause it.
Dementia is considered a syndrome, rather than a specific disease, and it is possible for individuals to have more than one type of dementia at the same time.
Types of dementia include:
- Lewy body dementia
- Frontotemporal dementia
- Vascular dementia
- Parkinson's disease dementia
- Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
- Huntington's disease
- Mixed dementia
It is a common misconception that dementia is a normal part of aging. While we may have more trouble learning or recalling information as we age, true dementia goes beyond simple forgetfulness.
Being over the age of 65 does increase your risk of developing dementia, but it isn’t the only risk factor. Other factors, such as family history and heavy alcohol use, can contribute to developing dementia. Some medical conditions like infections or side effects from medication may cause dementia-like symptoms, but can be reversed with treatment. Always talk to your doctor if you or a loved one are experiencing sudden dementia-like symptoms.
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, accounting for 60% to 80% of all cases. It is a progressive disease caused by the changes in the brain due to cell damage.
Early symptoms may include difficulty remembering newly learned information, performing routine tasks, and finding the right word or name. Friends and family members usually notice the signs and symptoms before the individual with Alzheimer’s does. The disease progresses through three main stages:
- Stage One (Early Stage): The person with Alzheimer’s may continue to be independent. Difficulties include remembering material that was just read, misplacing objects, and trouble planning or organizing.
- Stage Two (Middle Stage): Typically the longest stage, symptoms are more obvious and increase in severity. During the middle stage of Alzheimer’s, individuals may act in unexpected ways, and have difficulty expressing themselves. Behaviors like wandering, trouble with sleeping, and personality changes are common in this stage.
- Stage Three (Late Stage): In this stage, the person with Alzheimer’s typically requires assistance with most activities of daily living, like eating, bathing, using the toilet, and getting dressed.
Although its symptoms can be managed or sometimes improved, Alzheimer’s has no cure.
Are Dementia and Alzheimer’s the Same Thing?
For treatment purposes it is important to recognize that dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are similar, but separate medical conditions. While symptoms between the two may overlap, Alzheimer’s is a progressive form of dementia with no cure. Although it is the most common, Alzheimer’s is just one of several types of dementia.
Keep in mind that a single or isolated symptom, such as forgetting a word or an appointment, does not necessarily point to a cognitive problem. A continual pattern of such behavior should be investigated, since earlier treatment can lead to better quality of life. If you or a loved one are experiencing these symptoms, don’t wait to discuss with your doctor.
Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care Resources
You can learn more about Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia in our guide, where you’ll find answers to common questions and more.