Differences Between Dementia and Alzheimer’s

Oct 15, 2020

senior couple sitting on a bench

While often used interchangeably, dementia and Alzheimer’s are two different diagnoses and may require different treatments. To best understand the implications of a dementia or Alzheimer’s diagnosis for either you or your loved one, it helps to first understand the differences between the two conditions.

Alzheimer’s is a disease.

The term “dementia” describes a group of symptoms associated with a decline in memory, reasoning, or communication skills severe enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s is a specific disease and is the most common form of dementia.

Dementia is not a normal part of aging and is caused by damage to brain cells. This damage affects the cells’ ability to communicate with one another, which impacts memory, cognitive ability, behavior, and emotions. Alzheimer’s makes up 60-80% of all dementia cases and the Alzheimer’s Association estimates there are 5.8 million Americans living with the disease.

Dementia has multiple types.

Because dementia describes a collection of symptoms, it presents itself differently from person to person. Two people with Alzheimer’s may even have entirely different concerns and forms of memory loss despite being diagnosed with the same form of dementia. With over 400 types of dementia, it is possible to be diagnosed with more than one form. Mixed dementia occurs when more than one cause of dementia happens at once. Vascular dementia (impaired blood flow to the brain) is often caused by a stroke and may occur simultaneously with Alzheimer’s.

Dementia may be triggered by other diseases.

While Alzheimer’s is a disease unto itself, dementia may be caused by Huntington’s, Parkinson’s, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. The progression of these diseases is marked by degenerating nerve cells, causing chemical changes in the brain. Because of the impact on nerve cells, these diseases have a higher tendency to affect memory and may result in a form of dementia.

The onset age of Alzheimer’s and dementia varies.

According to the Mayo Clinic, 95 percent of Alzheimer’s patients are 65 years old or older. Whereas Huntington’s, Parkinson’s, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob diseases may develop earlier and can lead to dementia in middle age.

Individuals with dementia progress through symptoms at different paces. After diagnosis, a person with Alzheimer’s lives for an average of four to eight years, but can live as long as twenty. The course of the disease depends on the age of diagnosis and if there are underlying health conditions. While some risk factors for dementia (such as age and genetics) cannot be changed, adopting healthy lifestyle choices including a healthy diet, regular exercise, and cognitive stimulation may decrease the risk of cognitive decline and dementia.

Take a virtual brain tour from the Alzheimer’s Association for a closer look at how dementia and Alzheimer’s affect the brain.

Memory Care at Sunset

Dementia is unique from person to person. As symptoms progress, it can be hard to distinguish one form of dementia from another. Treatments and care plans will vary from one person to another. If you or someone you love is beginning to show symptoms of memory loss, please talk with your primary care physician about possible treatments and next steps.

At Sunset Senior Communities, we offer various levels of memory care at three of our communities. We feel it is important to not let the disease or diagnosis classify the person but to realize they are a unique individual created in the image of God. Our staff works closely with you to provide personal care and treatment. Our specialized programs, like SAIDO Learning, have been shown to reduce and even reverse the symptoms of memory loss in older adults. Contact us for more information about our Memory Care services.