The Difference Between Alzheimer’s and Dementia

When most people hear the word “dementia,” they immediately think of Alzheimer’s. So it may surprise you to hear that Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are not necessarily the same thing.

Dementia is a term used for impaired brain function (e.g., memory loss, personality changes) to the extent that it interferes with daily life. Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia.

Dementia Types

There are several different kinds of dementia, including:

Alzheimer’s disease: Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia, and also the most well known. It’s a progressive disease that causes memory loss, deterioration of thinking skills, and behavioral problems. Alzheimer’s is characterized by amyloid plaques and tangled fibers in the brain. It’s thought to be caused by a combination of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors.

Vascular dementia: People who have vascular dementia have impaired blood flow to the brain, which causes memory loss and impaired reasoning and judgement. It’s most commonly caused by stroke or by a series of silent strokes.

Dementia with Lewy bodies: Like Alzheimer’s, dementia with Lewy bodies, also known as Lewy body dementia, is a progressive disease. It’s characterized by an accumulation of protein deposits (Lewy bodies) in the brain. This type of dementia can cause hallucinations, deterioration of thinking skills, behavioral problems, mood swings, and Parkinson’s-like symptoms. There’s currently no known cause.

Frontotemporal dementia: Frontotemporal dementia is a group of disorders that lead to degeneration of the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. This type of dementia can lead to personality changes, socially-inappropriate behavior, memory loss, speech problems, and mood swings. Frontotemporal dementia is genetic.

Huntington’s disease: People with Huntington’s disease have a defective gene that causes degeneration of the brain’s nerve cells. Symptoms usually appear at a younger age than in most people with Alzheimer’s (30s-50s). Huntington’s disease can cause involuntary movement or jerking of the limbs, head, and torso; problems with balance; impaired thinking and reasoning skills; slurred speech; mood swings; and trouble swallowing.

Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease: Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is a progressive brain disorder in which the brain deteriorates rapidly. Symptoms may include memory loss, personality changes, depression or anxiety, vision problems, poor muscle coordination, difficulty speaking, and muscle spasms or jerking motions. Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease can be hereditary, develop for no apparent reason, or be transmitted by contact with infected human tissue (e.g., via organ transplant, infected medical instrument).

Alzheimer’s or Other Dementia?

If you or a loved one are having memory problems that are interfering with everyday life, ask your primary care physician for a referral to a Kansas City neurologist. Your neurologist can help to determine what type of dementia you’re dealing with.

Once you’ve been diagnosed, your doctor can direct you to Kansas City Alzheimer’s or dementia resources (e.g., educational materials, support groups, clinical trials).

Need Help?

If you have Alzheimer’s or other form of dementia, you may need to enlist the help of a Kansas City home care agency that specializes in Alzheimer’s and dementia care. A good home care agency can help with things like bathing and grooming, meal preparation, light housekeeping, mental stimulation, transportation, and more.