Contrary to popular belief, dementia and Alzheimer's disease are not similar. What's the difference between the two?

Dementia is the major term used to describe a decline in memory and other mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s disease, on the other hand, is the most common type of dementia that affects language, thought and memory and gets worst as time passes by.

The risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s increases as you age, however, there are cases where younger people were also affected. Symptoms of both conditions may tend to be overlapping therefore it is important to distinguish them for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Things You Need to Know About Dementia vs. Alzheimer’s

Most of us are interchanging dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. These two diseases often cause confusion to the patients, caregiver and family. Read on to know the differences between them.

What Are They?

Dementia is not a single disease in itself, but a collective term used for loss of memory and other cognitive abilities grave enough to hamper thinking, communication and going about your daily routine. It’s a combination of two or more symptoms that are severe enough that patient can’t fully perform their daily task normally. You can’t generally conclude that a loved one has dementia if he’s only experiencing memory loss. You may not able to notice these symptoms initially as changes often start small, however, they develop overtime until it affects a patient’s everyday life.

Alzheimer's disease, on the other hand, is the most common type of dementia. It makes up the 60-70% cases of dementia and has an estimation of 5.3 million cases in America. It is a neurological disorder in which cognitive decline and memory loss is caused by the death of brain cells. This disease starts mild and progresses over time.


What Are Their Symptoms?

To better understand dementia vs. Alzheimer’s, let’s look at their symptoms.

The signs of dementia may vary according to its causes, however, below are the common symptoms of dementia:

  • Subtle changes in short term memory, such as forgetting what they had for lunch, where they placed their things, or why they entered a particular room.

  • Difficulty finding the right words or having problem communicating their thoughts.

  • Mood swings as well as a shift in personality.

  • Feeling of apathy or loss of interest over hobbies, friends or loved ones.

  • Difficulty in doing everyday tasks.

  • Feeling of confusion brought about by lapse in thinking, memory or judgment.

  • Struggling to keep up with conversation or understanding plots in TV or movie.

  • Doing things in repetition such as shaving their legs for the 3rd time.

  • Having problem adapting to change.

Common symptoms of Alzheimer’s, on the other hand, are:

  • Loss of memory, especially forgetting information that was just learned recently.

  • Difficulty in doing activities that require problem solving or planning.

  • Difficulty in completing tasks that they do every day.

  • Being confused with place or time.

  • Difficulty in determining color, judging distance or reading.

  • Having trouble joining or following a conversation.

  • Usually put things in unusual places, like eyeglasses put inside the refrigerator. This results to losing things constantly.

  • Changes in decision-making or judgment.

  • Withdrawal from social activity, loved ones and even work.

  • Changes in personality and mood.



When comparing dementia vs. Alzheimer’s?, will the cause be different?

Dementia is usually caused when the cerebral cortex - the part of our brain that is responsible for memories, thoughts, personalities and actions – is degenerated. Cognitive impairments happen when there’s death of brain cells in this area.

Other causes of dementia include:

  • Brain tumors

  • Head injury

  • Simple and normal pressure hydrocephalus

  • Infections (such as HIV/AIDS, meningitis, or syphilis)

  • Metabolic disorder (such as diseases of pancreas, liver, or kidneys) or hormone disorders (such as thyroid glands)

  • Nutritional deficiencies

  • Hypoxia (not having enough oxygen supply in a certain region of the body)

  • Chronic alcoholism

  • Drug abuse

It is not known though if dementia causes death of the brain cell, or if the latter causes the first.

How about Alzheimer’s disease?

Just like with other types of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease develops when there is a brain cell death. It is also caused by a combination of lifestyle, genetic and environmental factors that has an effect on our brain through the course of time. The risk of getting this disease increases as you age. Patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease have fewer brain cells as the disease damages and kills brain cells.



When comparing dementia vs. Alzheimer’s in treatments, there are really similar.

Though most types of dementia are incurable, there are ways that patients can manage their condition better.


Patients are prescribed with medications to treat the symptoms that accompany dementia. Most of the common medications are memantine to regulate the activity of glutamate and cholinesterase inhibitors which includes rivastigmine, donepezil, and galantamine to boost judgment and memory.


These following nondrug approaches are used to treat behavioral problems and early dementia symptoms:

  • Occupational therapy – A professional therapist teaches the patient coping behaviors as well as shows tips on how to make your home safer.

  • Helping the patient in focus, concentration and functioning by removing noise and clutter.

  • Setting structure and routine as well as break tasks into simpler and easier ones.

What are the treatments provided for patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease?

Medications such as memantine and cholinesterase inhibitors are also prescribed to help cognitive changes and memory symptoms. Also, it is important that we provide a living situation that is suited to the needs of the patient. Make their life easier by establishing routine and minimizing tasks that are demanding and complicated.

Patients with Alzheimer’s should also have a regular exercise and proper nutrition. Other supplements such as Omega-3 fatty acids, curcumin, ginkgo and vitamin E are also used.



It’s quiet unfortunate that there’s no cure for dementia yet. The condition gets worst over time until it reaches its terminal stages.

The outlook for Alzheimer’s disease does not look good either. This is an undeniably progressive disease and patients get to live between 8 -15 years from the first onset of the symptoms.

Being diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease is not easy either to the patient himself or to his loved one. Make sure that you keep yourself educated to make their and your life as easy as possible.


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