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What is the Difference Between Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia?

It can be confusing to understand the difference between Alzheimer’s and Dementia. Most people interchange these words and believe that one means the same as the other. Doctors are sometimes guilty of contributing to this confusion as they tend to prefer using the word “Dementia” when “Alzheimer’s Disease” is the appropriate diagnosis because the word “Dementia” sounds less frightening.

The definition of Dementia is a brain disorder that affects communication and performance of daily activities. Alzheimer’s Disease is a form of Dementia that specifically affects part of the brain that controls thought, memory and language. Alzheimer’s is a specific brain disease that progressively destroys brain cells causing serious issues with memory, thinking and behavior. Alzheimer’s disease is common in aging people and is the most common cause of Dementia. Reviewing Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease separately can help explain the differences.


What is Dementia?

Dementia is a term for a group of symptoms including impaired thinking and memory. The most prominent symptom of Dementia is memory difficulty. Other cognitive functions attributed to Dementia include problem solving, spatial skills, language, attention, judgement or organization. Huntington’s Disease as well as Parkinson’s Disease can also cause Dementia. It is important to know that Dementia is not a specific disease. Rather, it is a term used for a group of symptoms caused by disorders that affect the brain. People with Dementia may not be able to think well enough to do normal activities such as getting dressed or eating. Individuals with Dementia may lose their ability to solve problems or even control their emotions. More severe Dementia can cause a change in personality, become easily agitated or even see things that are not there.

There are many possible causes of Dementia some of which are reversible such as certain thyroid conditions or vitamin deficiencies. If these issues are identified and treated, the Dementia can be reversed and the individual can again begin to function normally. However, most causes of Dementia are not reversible as it is a degenerative disease of the brain that gets worse over time.


What is Alzheimer’s?

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disease that causes Dementia. It destroys brain cells which impairs memory, thinking and behavior. Alzheimer’s progresses slowly and over time is fatal. A person with Alzheimer’s usually experiences a gradual decline in cognitive abilities over a period of years.

Alzheimer’s disease is very common in elderly people and is the most common cause of Dementia. It is estimated that 5.3 million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer’s disease and is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease include: getting lost, asking repetitive questions, experiencing difficulty handling money and paying bills, making poor decisions, frequently misplacing items and undergoing changes in personality. People with Alzheimer’s also tend to take longer to complete normal daily tasks than it did before. Unfortunately, as Alzheimer’s disease progresses, people may lose the ability to communicate and recognize oneself or family members.


To simplify this conversation, Alzheimer’s is a specific brain disease and Dementia is a symptom of cognitive disorders that affect the brain. Understanding the differences between Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease is not always easy and straightforward by using terms and definitions.

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