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Dementia vs. Alzheimer’s: What’s the Difference?

Alzheimer’s, a disease that affects millions of Americans, is often used interchangeably with the term dementia. But are dementia and Alzheimer’s the same thing? In this article, we will break down the similarities and differences between dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Are Dementia and Alzheimer’s The Same Thing?

Dementia and Alzheimer’s are not the same but do share similarities. Let’s start by defining the two conditions:

Dementia is an umbrella term for symptoms of decline in memory, reasoning, or other cognitive skills that are not part of the normal aging process. There are several types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s, Lewy Body dementia, mixed dementia, and vascular dementia.

Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common form of dementia, making up 60-80% of dementia diagnoses. Alzheimer’s is a brain disease caused by a buildup of plaques on nerves that transmit messages throughout the body.

Symptoms associated with dementia include a variety of cognitive changes, including trouble with memory, thinking, and problem-solving. Alzheimer’s Disease causes symptoms of dementia as it develops and progresses, but not everyone with symptoms of dementia has Alzheimer’s. One analogy is a high salt diet can cause high blood pressure, but not everyone who has high blood pressure has it because they eat a high salt diet.

The Difference Lies in The Cause

The main difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease is the cause of the condition. Alzheimer’s Disease is caused by distinct changes in the brain, whereas dementia can be caused by a variety of changes.

Causes of Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s Disease causes symptoms of dementia due to plaques forming on nerve cells in the brain. These nerve cells are called neurons, and our brains have billions of them working hard around the clock. Neurons carry information throughout the brain and body, telling them to complete various tasks throughout the day, including thinking, talking, and memory.

When plaques form, neurons in the brain struggle to communicate as they usually would, and concentrating and completing everyday activities become more difficult. In addition to plaques, researchers have discovered that Alzheimer’s Disease causes tangles of protein fibers to develop in the brain.

As we age, we naturally develop a few of these tangles, but people living with Alzheimer’s Disease develop a far greater amount. These tangles interfere with the neurons in the brain and may even destroy them, causing further cognitive decline.

Causes of Dementia

Dementia can be caused by a variety of other factors. Here are a few of the other common causes of dementia:

  • Vascular injury. If someone has suffered a vascular injury like a stroke, they can develop symptoms of dementia. This is known as Vascular Dementia and can present similar symptoms as Alzheimer’s Disease.
  • Protein collection. Lewy Body Dementia develops when large clumps of proteins form in the brain and around neurons, disrupting or destroying their function. This type of dementia causes cognitive changes as well as trouble sleeping and visual hallucinations.
  • Neuron breakdown. Frontotemporal dementia occurs when neurons break down in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. In addition to cognitive changes, this type of dementia can cause changes in walking ability and fine motor skills like writing or eating.
  • Combination of causes. Mixed Dementia happens when a person has symptoms of dementia due to two or more causes. Symptoms often reflect the cause of dementia that is most prevalent.

Medications, alcohol use, nutritional deficiencies, infections, or thyroid imbalance can also cause symptoms of dementia. These causes of dementia symptoms may be reversed if the underlying condition is treated.

Similarities and Differences in Dementia and Alzheimer’s Symptoms

Alzheimer’s Disease shares many symptoms with other types of dementia, but not every symptom of dementia is present in someone with Alzheimer’s.

Symptoms of both Alzheimer’s and dementia include:

  • Memory loss
  • Difficulty problem solving
  • Confusion with time and where they are
  • Troubling finding words and speaking
  • Poor judgment
  • Misplacing items frequently
  • Social withdrawal
  • Mood changes, including depression and irritability

Other symptoms of dementia include tremors, changes in walking gait, and hallucinations. Hallucinations are an early stage symptom in most types of dementia but appear in the later stages of Alzheimer’s.

The Onset of Symptoms for Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease

Another difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s is the age at which symptoms usually appear.

Dementia can occur across a range of ages. Lewy Body Dementia usually shows symptoms starting around age 50. Symptoms of Vascular Dementia can occur any time after a vascular injury, regardless of age.

Alzheimer’s Disease typically occurs in the mid-60s, but in cases of early-onset Alzheimer’s, symptoms can occur as young as 30.

Tandem Careplanning Dementia Home Care Services

If you or a loved one are experiencing signs of Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia, it’s important to know you’re not alone. Tandem Careplanning specializes in dementia home care which also includes Alzheimer’s Disease home care.

Tandem can help you create a customized care plan for you or your loved one, and we’ll help guide you every step of the way.

If you’d like to learn more about in-home dementia care, call one of our skilled Senior Care Specialists at 1-800-370-3377.

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