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The Difference Between Alzheimer’s and Dementia

While Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are often used interchangeably, there is a difference between these two terms and they often get confused. Essentially, Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia and while dementia is a condition, Alzheimer's disease may be the reason why someone has dementia in the first place. 

What Is Dementia? 

“Dementia” is an umbrella term that encompasses different conditions that cause damage to nerve cells and your brain, leading to difficulties in speech and memory loss. Connections between nerve cells are disrupted and the area of the brain where nerves are most damaged determines the form of dementia that’s present, as well as symptoms that a given person may suffer from. 

Dementia is not one single disease. Instead, it is a condition of varying symptoms that have different causes - one of which can be Alzheimer’s. This is why it’s essential that a medical professional determines the underlying cause of dementia. On top of Alzheimer’s, dementia may be caused by vascular disorders, Parkinson’s Disease, thyroid illnesses, vitamin deficiencies, and more. What this all means is that if someone is experiencing dementia, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they have Alzheimer’s disease. 

Common symptoms of dementia include: 

  • Trouble visualizing images 
  • Difficulty in completing familiar, regular tasks, such as using a phone or microwave 
  • Difficulty in expressing thoughts through writing and speech, having an inability to express the words they are thinking of 
  • Memory loss with everyday, familiar activities such as memory loss with appointments or names 
  • Misplacing or losing things 
  • Avoiding socializing or being easily distracted while socializing 
  • Uncertainty with time, such as not being able to identify what day of the week it is 
  • Emotional changes, especially when a routine or typical tasks are disrupted 

What Is Alzheimer’s? 

Alzheimer’s Disease is one of the causes of dementia, and luckily, one that is most understood. Experts believe it’s caused by atypical deposits of protein in the brain which function abnormally. These protein deposits can build up outside brain cells or tangle within them, causing damage and eventually destroying the cells. As brain cells die, the brain’s ability to function continues to deteriorate. 

When Alzheimer’s occurs, the hippocampus is the area of the brain that’s usually affected first. The hippocampus helps retain memories, so typically the first sign that someone has Alzheimer’s is that they’re unable to create new memories. Other symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease include: 

  • Losing recent memories quickly, while old memories can be retained 
  • A slow progress in forgetting more and more 
  • Recollecting feelings from an event, while not remembering the facts about the event 
  • An inability to learn new things 
  • Difficulty thinking logically 
  • A shortened attention span 
  • Difficulty coping with new situations 

Whether someone is experiencing Alzheimer’s or another cause of dementia, the important thing to note is that most causes of dementia cannot be treated or cured. Dementia can be very complex, and often it progresses to the point where the person living with dementia cannot take care of themselves on their own. It’s essential to be aware of the signs of dementia and Alzheimer’s, understand the difference, and watch out for these signs in your elderly loved ones.