What’s the Difference Between Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia?

Alzheimer's Disease and Dementia

 

If you’re worried about losing your memory—whether you’re already becoming more forgetful or you’re concerned about the future—the terms Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are probably on your radar. Like many people, you may think they are interchangeable, but Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are not the same. Do you know the difference? Here are 10 things you need to know about Alzheimer’s and dementia.

 

Like many people, you may think Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are interchangeable, but they are not the same. Do you know the difference? Click To Tweet

10 DIFFERENCES BETWEEN ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE AND DEMENTIA

1. Dementia is a syndrome, not a disorder.

This general term encompasses a range of symptoms related to cognitive impairment, including memory loss and problems with thinking skills or reasoning. When a person’s symptoms become severe enough to interfere with daily living, they are said to have dementia.

2. Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia.

Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia, accounting for 60% to 80% of all cases. It is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that impairs memory and cognitive function, leads to personality changes, and impacts moods. Research suggests that a buildup of beta-amyloid plaques between brain cells and abnormal tangles of tau protein inside brain cells play a role in the disease.

3. There are many causes of dementia.

In addition to Alzheimer’s, there are many other types of dementia, including but not limited to:

  • Vascular dementia is caused by blood flow blockages, most often due to stroke or plaque buildup in the arteries
  • Lewy Body dementia is associated with Parkinson’s disease and involves a buildup of proteins known as Lewy bodies inside brain cells that interfere with electrical signaling.
  • Frontotemporal dementia involves changes in the brain that cause behavioral changes.
  • Mixed dementia occurs when a person has more than a single type. The most common combination is Alzheimer’s with vascular dementia, which affects an estimated 22% of elderly people, according to research in Dementia & Neuropsychologia.
  • Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease is an infectious disease that triggers dementia that progresses rapidly. This type is rare, affecting about 350 people per year in the US.
  • Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is related to a vitamin B1 (thiamine) deficiency that is commonly seen in people with an alcohol use disorder.
  • Huntington’s disease is a genetic disorder that affects parts of the brain involved in thinking, movement, and emotion.
  • Normal pressure hydrocephalus involves a buildup of spinal fluid in the brain. It is associated with problems related to thinking, decision-making, behavior, walking, and more.

4. Memory loss is not a normal part of the aging process.

Many people, including physicians, mistakenly think that memory loss and cognitive decline are normal as a person gets older. This is not true!

5. Dementia and Alzheimer’s cases are rising.

An estimated 57.4 million people worldwide were living with dementia in 2019, and that number is predicted to jump to 152.8 million by 2050, according to an analysis published in 2022 in The Lancet. By contrast, approximately 6.5 million Americans ages 65 and older are currently living with Alzheimer’s disease. By 2050, that number is expected to hit 12.7 million.

6. Alzheimer’s is more common in women.

Nearly two-thirds of the 6.5 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease are female. Experts point to the fact that women live longer than men as a primary reason for this, considering that older age is the main risk factor for the disease. One study based on data from the Framingham Heart Study suggests that men may appear to have a lower risk for dementia due to what scientists call a “survival bias.” This means that men who lived to age 65 and beyond were more likely to be those with better cardiovascular health, which is associated with a lower risk for Alzheimer’s.

7. Dementias affect the brain differently.

The various dementias are generally associated with areas of low blood flow in the brain that can be seen on SPECT scans. Alzheimer’s disease typically affects the temporal lobes (memory, learning, and emotional regulation), parietal lobes (sensory processing and orientation to time and place), and posterior cingulate (involved in cognition and mood). Vascular dementia is caused by blood vessel changes—often from one or more strokes—that can occur throughout the brain. Lewy Body dementia often begins with damage to the occipital lobe (involved with vision processing), situated at the back of the brain. Frontotemporal dementia impacts the frontal lobes (involved in planning, judgment, and impulse control) and the temporal lobes.

8. Preventing Alzheimer’s and other dementias depends on your personal risk factors.

There are several modifiable risk factors that can reduce the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s. Amen Clinics uses the acronym BRIGHT MINDS to help people remember 11 major risk factors for memory loss and what to do to decrease your risk.

9. Treatments need to be targeted to the causes.

For anyone struggling with memory loss or cognitive decline, it’s important to understand the underlying causes. Addressing root causes with targeted treatments can be the most effective way to improve memory and cognitive function.

10. Brain imaging can help differentiate root causes.

Brain SPECT imaging can help identify if a person’s cognitive changes are not due to Alzheimer’s or other dementias but rather caused by potentially reversible issues such as infections, exposure to toxins, head trauma, or depression (as in the case of pseudodementia which mimics the symptoms of dementia).

The brain imaging work at Amen Clinics shows that when people struggling with cognitive decline or memory loss follow a brain-healthy memory rescue program to minimize their risk factors, it can improve memory and cognitive function. It is never too late—or too early—to start taking better care of your brain.

Memory loss, cognitive decline, mood changes, and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.

10 Comments »

  1. Very informative and helpful.

    Comment by Jill — December 26, 2022 @ 6:07 AM

  2. I am in Assisted Living after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Been here 3 years. Enjoy following you so much.

    Comment by Beverly Makepeace — December 26, 2022 @ 6:25 AM

  3. Thank you for this interesting article. I take great interest in Dementia and Alzheimer's disease as I am now a retired Nurse and have seen many cases of this since the 1970's when patients were diagnosed as being confused. I have experienced it with my maternal Granny.

    Comment by Zenithe Ayube — December 26, 2022 @ 6:50 AM

  4. Do you take Medicare? I’m 55 and disabled due to brain tumor and cognitive decline… and they won’t do anything except drugs, which I declined.

    Comment by Tonya — December 26, 2022 @ 10:21 AM

  5. I’ve been forgetful since my early 30’s

    Comment by Marilyn Braun — December 26, 2022 @ 12:16 PM

  6. I have been to a Neurologist and he put me on Nemebia (spelling )? I can't tell if is is helping g .Only been for 1 mo. Approximately. I just don't know whether it is dementia or Alzheimer's!

    Comment by Emma C Gimber — December 26, 2022 @ 12:51 PM

  7. I am so Anxious to learn if I have dementia or Alzheimer's! Can't wait to get the recommended scan!

    Comment by Emma Gimber — December 26, 2022 @ 7:48 PM

  8. Is there a test I can take to see if I am showing cognitive decline or signs of dementia, or alzheimers? I just turned 64, an African American Woman. I am a teacher, a vegetarian, and I practice yoga on a regular basis.

    Comment by Sandra Smith — December 27, 2022 @ 5:20 AM

  9. My neurologist tested and said I have slight cognitive decline. I wonder if it was from two falls I had. One fell on my back on a cement driveway and had a brain bleed. Five years later I fell on my face on a tile floor and broke my face, cheek, jaw, left elbow and right wrist. Could those accidents cause my problem?

    Comment by Katherine Shute — December 31, 2022 @ 8:47 AM

  10. Hello Katherine, thank you for reaching out. We have several resources regarding Traumatic Brain Injury: https://www.amenclinics.com/conditions/concussions-and-traumatic-brain-injury/; https://www.amenclinics.com/services/concussion-rescue-program/; and a great resource is this book written by one of our skilled physicians: https://brainmd.com/concussion-rescue-book. If you'd like more information about SPECT scans and our services, please contact our Care Coordinators: https://www.amenclinics.com/schedule-visit/.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — January 9, 2023 @ 9:26 AM

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