The Difference Between Alzheimer’s And Dementia

“We hope to grow old and we dread old age; that is to say, we love life and we flee from death.” —Jean de La Bruyère, Les Caractères

In A Nutshell

Both Alzheimer’s and dementia are associated with a loss of memory, but what’s the difference? Alzheimer’s refers to a physical change in the makeup of the brain, which causes dementia as one of its major symptoms. Dementia can be a symptom of other diseases as well.

The Whole Bushel

Dementia is actually one of the major symptoms of and the final stage in the progression of Alzheimer’s (an age-related disease that is characterized by symptoms other than just memory loss), as well as by a physical change in brain tissue. When a person suffers from the symptom of dementia, that means that they’re afflicted by memory loss and an overall decline in their ability to process information. In order to be diagnosed with dementia, a person must demonstrate impaired abilities in two of the following areas: memory, ability to focus, reasoning and judgment, visual perception, and communication.

It’s also important to note that dementia is diagnosed when the symptoms get so bad that they interfere with a person’s ability to function on a daily basis. Forgetfulness and memory loss is a normal part of aging, but dementia is defined as severe instances of those.

Alzheimer’s is one of the causes of dementia. It describes a physical condition in which there is a change in the tissue of the brain, including the formation of structures called amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles—essentially, blockages in the brain that prevent the transmission of signals. The loss of signals between the brain’s neurons results in dementia, along with some other symptoms.

In addition to dementia, those who suffer from Alzheimer’s often show other signs of cognitive difficulty. This can include a loss of depth and spatial perception, abnormal sleep patterns, and an inability to visualize and understand abstract concepts, such as numbers. There is often a change in personality, as well, and a person can become angry, restless, or paranoid. Those afflicted with the disease often have trouble following directions or fulfilling requests, and may also lack the motivation to do so. This lack of motivation can extend to all areas of life, from getting up in the morning to interacting with other people.

Dementia can be caused by something other than Alzheimer’s. Common causes for dementia can include vitamin deficiencies or problems in other parts of the body, such as the thyroid. Some medications can cause dementia as one of their side effects, and the excessive use of alcohol can also lead to dementia.

Dementia generally starts out mild and progresses slowly over years. In some cases—depending on the cause of the dementia—it can be managed and sometimes even treated and reversed. For example, if it’s determined that a medication is causing the symptoms, stopping the medication may get rid of the dementia.

Alzheimer’s also worsens over time, and three distinct stages have been identified. The first is a stage where there are no symptoms, but the disease it starting to develop in the brain. The second is the stage where symptoms begin to manifest themselves, and when the person suffers from mild but not complete cognitive impairment. In the third stage, symptoms progress to full-blown dementia.

Currently, there are no cures or preventative methods for Alzheimer’s, and those who are diagnosed with it will eventually need around-the-clock, complete care. What triggers the development of Alzheimer’s is also unknown, although many doctors point to an all-around healthy lifestyle as the best way to keep brain function at healthy levels, no matter what your age.

Show Me The Proof

National Institute on Aging: Alzheimer’s Basics
Alzheimer’s Association: What Is Dementia?

  • Exiled Phoenix

    What’re we going to do tonight brain? The same thing we do every night pinkey… Try to take over the world.

  • Ryan

    How can they ever hope to stop a degenerative brain disease like this? I hope there’s a breakthrough soon.

  • The Ou7law

    Where am i again?

  • SensiblePerson

    These disease are both equally tragic and horrible though

  • MissKingdomVII

    My grandmother had Dementia. Worst thing I’ve ever gone through next to her passing away. But my God I would never wish that on anybody. It’s been four years since her passing and I’m still affected by the memories of her with Dementia. 🙁

    • Nadia Danielle

      I empathize with you completely. My grandmother passed from Alzheimer’s in Dec of 2011 and I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy. I felt so helpless watching her, she, not knowing who anyone was. It was very hard.

  • C0gentman

    When I started having Dementia, I tried to think of ways to counteract the process of degeneration, so I started to do mind exercises. But, the dumbells my brain tried to lift started to interfere with it all by telling bad jokes and just plain old bothering the republic for which it stands, one nation, under dog, who is in heaven, hallowed be his doo dah, doo dah, camptown races sing this….SQUIRREL!!!!…………………………..(pretty squirrel).

    • aliendreams

      Yeah, dementia’s a real funny joke to you. Well, just wait. Karma’s got your name.

      • C0gentman

        If you can’t make a joke about something you’re not showing it real respect. Lighten up.

        • Joseph

          It’s not even a funny joke though.

          • C0gentman

            Subjective. It was MEANT to be a joke, though, which is relevant to aliendreams’s comment.

          • Joseph

            Yeah, I agree with that. I didn’t really think it was funny, that’s all. Jokes are a good way to distract ourselves from how depressing some things can be.

          • SugarMag26

            When my nana tells me that B’s been by to paint her nails, I just tell her how awesome of a granddaughter B is, and how nice her nails look, Nevermind I’m B.

          • Lisa 39

            My grandma has dementia and think’s my brother’s name is sir john potatohead.

          • SugarMag26

            Baha! That’s awesome! Family members are depressed or downtrodden when they go up there, or they’re riddled with guilt for not going more often. Its not about my guilt or how I feel, it’s about her. So we have fun. My Aspergers kid plays hide and seek with her (under the covers) and she thinks it’s hilarious! I turn on Motown radio on pandora and we jam out while playing beauty salon. We have a good time.

          • Lisa 39

            Good for you and her, and good job on what you’re teaching your child(ren), it can be very hard to watch but sometime’s in life you just have to fly by the seat of your pant’s and make it the best that you can, good job!

          • C0gentman

            Exactly. I actually have an aunt who has dementia, and its sad to watch her as she goes about, but I also had an uncle who was in a wheelchair, and he hated it when people walked eggshells around him because he was crippled. He wanted us to joke about it and make light of it, so I grew up with that kind of approach to things. Honestly, in my experiences, its the ones who DON’T have the condition that get offended at my joking. Go figure.

          • Joseph

            Not many jokes offend me. If the right people are laughing, it’s helping instead of hurting. If the wrong people are offended, it doesn’t matter.

          • C0gentman

            True. Well said.

  • aliendreams

    My dad had 2 silent strokes while in hospital back in 2001. His dementia progressed slowly, unknowingly until about 5 yrs ago when his memory was so shot that the dr told us how bad off he was. His dementia was so gradual back then that it’s easy to reason away what’s truly happening. There was nothing that could have been done for him – so we were told. Last yr I moved him and my mother down to the state I live in so we could put them both into an assisted living home where they could stay together and I would be close by to help.
    My mother decided that she “wasn’t having fun any more” and right before their 65th wedding anniversary she left him and moved out of state to go live with my brother. It broke my dad’s heart and he was severely depressed. Now I am my dad’s sole visitor. I am a stranger to him who weekly brings him sweets and small gifts.
    He’s well taken care of but it hurts in so many ways to see your parent slip away. He has the capabilities of a 2-3 yr old now. I can’t understand what he tries to say, he doesn’t know me and he doesn’t ask any questions about family or former interests. It’s heartbreaking.
    My prayers and condolences go out to everyone dealing with these dreaded diseases. I think it’s hardest on the families. At least our loved ones don’t seem to be in any sort of physical pain. Sorry. Words fail me. I’m not as clear as I wanted to be. sorry

  • J_Doe5686

    My grandmother has Dementia. I wish there was a cure so I can have Her back again. Just to think of what’s going to happen to her kills me.

  • MissMadeleine

    Some of the examples of dementia offered above can be attributed to delirium which IS reversible. Dehydration, vitamin deficiency, infection (even a garden variety bladder infection) can all cause delirium – especially in elderly persons – but treat the problem and the delirium goes away. Dementia, while the most prominent symptom of Alzheimer’s disease (good description there) can also come from Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, stroke (vascular dementia), AIDS, and any number of other insults to the brain’s chemistry. (Dementia Pugilisticia – dementia from being hit in the head too much). Most of these are diagnosed based on medical exam but I have successfully guessed based on behavior: Lewy-body dementia (related to Parkinson’s) often features vivid visual hallucinations while classic Alzheimer’s does not. People with Lewy-body can also sustain prolonged moments of clarity one would never see in Alzheimer’s. The cognitive losses in a vascular dementia can be vastly variable, and so on. But, as I explained to one family member, dementia is dementia is dementia. I don’t think dementia change personalities as much as it strips people of the ability to be false or duplicitous. Without the intellect to filter distractions or hold their tongues, people with dementia tend to be very honest and reactive to the environment around them. I enjoy their company very much.