Dementia vs. Alzheimer's: What Is the Difference?

Reviewed on 8/17/2021

Dementia causes memory loss and difficulty thinking, which can interfere with a person's ability to carry out daily activities, but it is not a specific disease in itself. Alzheimer's disease is a brain disorder that causes problems with memory, thinking, and behavior.
Dementia causes memory loss and difficulty thinking, which can interfere with a person’s ability to carry out daily activities, but it is not a specific disease in itself. Alzheimer's disease is a brain disorder that causes problems with memory, thinking, and behavior.

Both dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are conditions in which there is a progressive decline in mental capacity. Symptoms appear slowly and gradually and worsen over time. 

Difference Between Alzheimer's and Dementia

  • Dementia is a term used to describe a decline in mental abilities, such as memory loss and difficulty thinking, that can interfere with a person’s ability to carry out daily activities. It is not a specific disease in itself.
  • Alzheimer's disease is a brain disorder that develops over time and is characterized by problems with memory, thinking, and behavior. It is the most common cause of dementia. 

What Are Symptoms of Dementia and Alzheimer’s?

Dementia symptoms can be similar to those of Alzheimer’s since Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia. In order to be considered dementia, the Alzheimer’s Association states at least two of the following core mental functions must be significantly impaired:

  • Memory
  • Communication and language
  • Ability to focus and pay attention
  • Reasoning and judgment
  • Visual perception

Memory loss is the most common early symptom of Alzheimer’s disease. As the condition progresses, more severe symptoms develop, such as:

  • Severe memory loss
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Mood changes
  • Behavior changes
  • Suspicion 
  • Difficulty speaking, swallowing, and walking (in the later stages)

What Causes Dementia and Alzheimer’s?

Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia. The second-most common cause of dementia is vascular dementia, which occurs following a stroke

Both dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are caused by damage to brain cells and it is likely that a combination of factors that affect the brain lead to the development of the condition.

Risk factors for developing dementia and Alzheimer’s include:

  • Age: most people with Alzheimer’s disease are over 65, and about one-third of adults over age 85 have the disease
  • Genetics
  • Lifestyle: includes diet, physical activity, and social relationships
  • Environment: exposure to pesticides and air pollution 
  • Other risk factors for developing Alzheimer’s disease include Down syndrome, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes

 

How Are Dementia and Alzheimer’s Diagnosed?

Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are diagnosed with a combination of a patient’s medical history, mental status tests, physical and neurological exams, diagnostic tests, and brain imaging. 

Tests used to diagnose dementia and Alzheimer’s disease include: 

  • Neurological exam
  • Mental cognitive status testing to evaluate memory, thinking, and simple problem-solving abilities
    • Mini-Mental State Exam (MMSE) 
    • Mini-Cog test 
  • Computerized cognitive testing 
    • Cantab Mobile
    • Cognigram
    • Cognivue
    • Cognision 
    • Automated Neuropsychological Assessment Metrics (ANAM) 
  • Depression screen and mood assessment
  • Brain imaging

QUESTION

One of the first symptoms of Alzheimer's disease is __________________. See Answer

What Is the Treatment for Dementia and Alzheimer’s?

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, and the goal of treatments is to slow disease progression and help treat symptoms.

Medications used to treat Alzheimer’s disease include: 

Non-medical treatments for behavior include: 

  • Identifying triggers for behaviors to determine the best approach to deal with it
  • Modifying the environment to remove or reduce challenges and obstacles to comfort, security, and peace of mind
  • Monitoring personal comfort
  • Creating a calm environment
  • Allowing adequate rest

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors

Reviewed on 8/17/2021
References
https://www.alz.org/