Alzheimer’s vs. Dementia: Understanding the Difference

Too often, family members of a patient are told by a doctor that their loved one is diagnosed with “dementia”. Hearing this, the family members walk away with a feeling of relief that at least Alzheimer’s disease is not the cause behind the mental problems their loved one has been going through lately.

This is where they are wrong. Dementia is an umbrella term for a number of mental diseases, under which Alzheimer’s diseases rates at the top. Today, doctors use the word “dementia” instead of “senility” to describe the symptoms a person might be going through such as memory difficulties, decline in cognitive function, confusion, etc.

What is the Difference between Alzheimer’s and Dementia?

A good analogy for explaining the term dementia is “fever”. When a person’s body temperature rises, we say that the person is sick. Though we have figured out the symptom, we have yet to discover the cause. Dementia tells us that there is something wrong with the brain but we still have to find out what is causing the cognitive difficulties.

In other words, dementia is a clinical presentation that defines a disease.

Symptoms of Dementia

Dementia causes memory difficulties in cognitive functioning of the following areas:

  • Language
  • Attention
  • Problem solving
  • Spatial skills
  • Judgment
  • Planning
  • Organization

There comes a time when the cognitive functioning declines to such a level, where patients experience difficulty in their daily lives including areas in occupational and social functioning.

Identifying the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia is a confusion, which is not just faced by the patients or family members but by health care providers too.

 The Types of Dementia

Types of DementiaCharacteristics
Alzheimer’sThis is the most common type of dementia and is diagnosed as the leading cause in 60 to 80% of the cases.Symptoms of this disease include changes in language skills, difficulty in learning new information, lack of interest in activities, confusion, poor judgment, impaired communication, behavior changes and frequent disorientation.
Dementia with Lewy BodiesIs the second most common cause of Dementia and mimics the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease such as fluctuations in clear thinking and confusion.Other symptoms include visual hallucinations, sleep disturbances, thinking problems, memory loss and muscle rigidity.
Vascular DementiaIs a result of a heart stroke or when damage is caused to the brain by insufficient blood flow.Symptoms of this disease include impaired judgment, inability to make plans, decisions or organize, diminished attention and memory loss.
Parkinson’s DiseaseSymptoms of this disease include loss in concentration, memory and judgment, muffled speech, issues in interpreting visual information, depression, anxiety, paranoia and visual hallucinations.
Huntington’s DiseaseHuntington’s is a rare disease and is caused by a defective gene on the chromosome.Symptoms of this disease include mood changes, depression, irritability, decline in reasoning and thinking skills and involuntary movements.
Wernicke-Korsakoff SyndromeIs a result of alcohol abuse, which causes chronic memory disorder brought on by severe deficiency of thiamine (vitamin B-1)Symptoms of this disease include memory problems.
Frontotemporal DementiaThis is a group of diseases, in which the nerve cells in the temporal and frontal lobe are affected. This attacks the part of the brain, which is responsible for controlling language, behavior and personality.

Knowing the difference between Dementia and Alzheimer’s can save your loved one’s life. So, make sure that they are diagnosed correctly and receive the right treatment.