Jun 25, 2017

What is The Difference Between Alzheimer's and Dementia

Dementia presents as a group of symptoms, and Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia. The words Alzheimer's and dementia are often used interchangeably.


Dementia is the symptom, Alzheimer's is the diagnosis
Dementia isn't a specific disease. Instead, dementia describes a group of symptoms affecting memory, thinking and social abilities severely enough to interfere with daily functioning.

When someone is told they have Alzheimer's or dementia, it means they have significant memory problems as well as other cognitive and behavioral issues.

Most of the time dementia is caused by Alzheimer's disease.


Contrary to what some people may think, dementia is not a less severe problem, with Alzheimer's disease being a more severe problem.

There is great confusion about the difference between Alzheimer's and dementia.

In a nutshell, dementia is a syndrome, and Alzheimer's is the cause of the symptom.


The Difference Between Alzheimer's and Dementia



A good analogy to the term dementia is “fever.” Fever refers to an elevated temperature, indicating that a person is sick. But it does not give any information about what is causing the sickness.

In the same way, dementia means that there is something wrong with a person’s brain, but it does not provide any information about what is causing the memory or cognitive difficulties.

Dementia is not a disease - it is the clinical presentation or symptoms of a disease.


There are many possible causes of dementia. Some causes are reversible, such as certain thyroid conditions or vitamin deficiencies.

If these underlying problems are identified and treated, then the dementia reverses and the person can return to normal functioning.


However, most causes of dementia are not reversible. Rather, they are degenerative diseases of the brain that get worse over time. The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer's disease, accounting for as many as 70-80% of all cases of dementia.

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Confusion on the part of family and friends


The confusion is felt on the part of patients, family members, the media, and even health care providers.
  • “Dementia” is a term that has replaced a more out-of-date word, “senility,” to refer to cognitive changes with advanced age.
  • Dementia includes a group of symptoms, the most prominent of which is memory difficulty with additional problems in at least one other area of cognitive functioning, including language, attention, problem solving, spatial skills, judgment, planning, or organization.
  • These cognitive problems are a noticeable change compared to the person’s cognitive functioning earlier in life and are severe enough to get in the way of normal daily living, such as social and occupational activities.

Contrary to what some people may think, dementia is not a less severe problem, with Alzheimer's disease being a more severe problem.

  • There is not a continuum with dementia on one side and Alzheimer's disease at the extreme. Rather, there can be early or mild stages of Alzheimer's, which then progress to moderate and severe stages of the disease.
  • One reason for the confusion about dementia and Alzheimer's disease is that it is not possible to diagnose Alzheimer's with 100% accuracy while someone is alive. Rather, Alzheimer's disease can only truly be diagnosed after death, upon autopsy when the brain tissue is carefully examined by a specialized doctor referred to as a neuropathologist.
  • During life, a patient can be diagnosed with “probable Alzheimer's.” This term is used by doctors and researchers to indicate that, based on the person’s symptoms, the course of the symptoms, and the results of various tests, it is very likely that the person will show pathological features of Alzheimer's disease when the brain tissue is examined following death.



This contribution was made by Dr. Robert Stern, Director of the BU Alzheimer Disease Center.

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Definitions


Dementia isn't a specific disease. Instead, dementia describes a group of symptoms affecting memory, thinking and social abilities severely enough to interfere with daily functioning.

Though dementia generally involves memory loss, memory loss has different causes. So memory loss alone doesn't mean you have dementia.

Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of a progressive dementia in older adults, but there are a number of causes of dementia. Depending on the cause, some dementia symptoms can be reversed.
~ Mayo Clinic

The term “dementia” is used to describe a set of symptoms that can include memory loss, difficulty thinking, problem solving, or issues with language. Dementia is caused by damage to the brain cells, and because Alzheimer's is a disease that destroys the brain, it is one of the most common causes of dementia.
~ Medical Daily

Dementia is an umbrella term for a set of symptoms including impaired thinking and memory. However, issues other than Alzheimer's can cause dementia. Other common causes of dementia are Huntington's Disease, Parkinson's Disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
~ Alzheimers.net


Original content Alzheimer's Reading Room