What’s the Difference between Alzheimer’s and Dementia?

What’s the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease? The two terms tend to be used interchangeably, but there is a difference. Here’s a quick clarification.

Dementia is an umbrella term that describes a set of symptoms.

Alzheimer’s is a disease and is the most common (but not the only) cause of that set of symptoms. Strokes, brain injuries, and other diseases can also be responsible.

Sometimes, dementia is the result of a vitamin deficiency, hormone imbalance, or medication interactions; in those cases, it may be reversible.

All dementias are not the same, because different diseases and conditions attack different parts of the brain.

In general, though, the symptoms that make up “dementia” are memory loss along with personality changes, problems with communication, or impaired reasoning. Occasional forgetfulness or grumpiness is not dementia. When a combination of these issues becomes severe enough to interfere with normal daily functioning, then we’re talking about dementia.

Short-term memory loss is sort of a hallmark of Alzheimer’s Disease, so that’s what most people think of when they hear “dementia,” but depending on the part of the brain being effected, dementia might manifest itself with things like a short attention span, poor judgment, angry outbursts, inappropriate sexual behavior, loss of peripheral or depth perception, inability to find the right words, not recognizing familiar objects, or asking repetitive questions. The important point is that it’s not just memory loss.

Whatever you call it, and whatever the cause, dementia is a sad, difficult experience for everyone involved. Knowing some of the basics of what it is – and what it isn’t – allows us to be more helpful and compassionate to those afflicted with dementia and to those who are caring for them.

Please spread the word.

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2 responses to “What’s the Difference between Alzheimer’s and Dementia?

  1. Thank you Susan for clarifying the difference between Dementia and Alzheimer’s on your Blog. It is wonderful to see that you are posting once again. I value your insights. I remain grateful for your introduction to local support groups during my family’s recent journey with my father’s dementia and the education gleaned through your blog.

    • Thank you for the encouragement, Laura; I really appreciate it! Your experience with your father was certainly a test of every fiber of your faith, character and endurance. What would you suggest to someone new to the journey? What “survival “ticks” did you learn?

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