In order to explain what is the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s one first needs to know what dementia is. Dementia is the deterioration of our cognition. In Latin it means ‘ apart mind’ – that your mind is losing its grip of your body. Dementia is an ongoing problem and in a few years it will be a huge social problem as the average age of people in the Western world is increasing and with that, so is the incidence of dementia.
It is important to understand that dementia is a syndrome and not a disease on its own. A syndrome is a collection of possible symptoms that together make the syndrome. For instance, demented people could have symptoms of Amnesia, Apraxia, Apraxia of speech, behavior problems, speech impairment, orientation problems and many more. Of course one does not need to have all these symptoms to qualify for dementia.
Dementia is a non-specific syndrome that targets different areas on the brain. For this reason there are many different symptoms associated with dementia. Typical areas of the brain that are affects are: communication, memory, orientation, problem solving and attention. We speak of dementia when someone has significant memory loss plus another impairment that both cause social disfunction. But dementia is not a disease in itself – it is a syndrome with a variety of causes of which Alzheimer is one.
Alzheimer disease is characterized by the appearance of plaques and tangles in the brain. You can find these tangles and plaques in every aging brain but in people with Alzheimer disease there is an abnormal quantity. These plaques and tangles interfere with the functioning of our brain on different areas on the brain. Therefore Alzheimer is also called pathological rapidly aging of the brain.
So the exact difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s is that dementia is a non-specific syndrome and Alzheimer is a specific disease. Many people cannot explain the difference and this is probably because Alzheimer is the most prominent cause of dementia. Almost 70% of all people with dementia have the type of Alzheimer. Other causes of dementia are stroke, Parkinson, Lewy body disease, Fronto-temporal dementia, Huntington and even Aids/HIV.
But is it important to know what type of dementia patients have? Indeed it is – although there is a large variety of symptoms between all types of dementia, every type is characterized by certain specific symptoms. Lewy Body Disease (LBD), for instance, comes with hallucinations and delusion. It is very important to know if it is Lewy Body causing the hallucinations because, although the primary treatment for hallucinations would be Haldol, it is dangerous to give this to people with LBD. Other differences are that dementia caused by stroke often results in a stable cognitive situation whereas Alzheimer is very progressive.
In summary, there are many types of Dementia and Alzheimers is just one of them. So when you have a relative or a friend diagnosed with Dementia it does not always have to be Alzheimer disease. Your doctor and psychologist are specialized in finding out what is the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s. Their professional examination often results in a correct diagnosis.
IVE READ THE ARTICAL AND UNDERSTAND ALITTLE BUT MY QUESTION IS WHICH IS WORSE DEMETIA OR ALZIMERS,MY DAD WAS JUST FOUND TO HAVE DEMETIA. I WASNT SURE IF THERE WAS EVEN A DIFFERENCE IN THE TWO,SO WHAT I NEED TO KNOW IS WHICH IS WORSE THANK YOU
Your information was helpful.
My father was diagnosed with dememtia, they found hardening of the artires in his brain. This has been going on for several year now. Of course it is extremely hard to watch your father’s health failing and even harder to have him not knowing who you are. But now the scariest thing that is happening is hallucinations. He has been having hallucinations for a while; thinking there are people in the house that are not there, people taking things ect., but he has now attacted my mother not knowing who she is. I’m very scared over this. (just two weeks ago only 50 miles from our home a 81 year old man with altzheimers killed his wife because he thought she was an intruder) My father doesn’t recogize my mother all the time but this was the first time he attacked her. He takes seroquel, exelon and numenda, but he doctors are wanting him to stop the seroquel. Do know of any on other drugs that are used to treat hallucinations in dementia patients? Scared to death!!!
Hi ya……. i found this whole page very very helpful in understanding the difference in AD and Dementia syndrome and will help me in the future – thank you very much.
P.S – i wouldnt worry about the ONE tiny spelling mistake you made 🙂
My mom was diagnosed with Dementia around 4 years ago, she is a mother of 9, grandma of 24 and 3 greats, married to my father for 54 years. They have always been stuck like glue very loving with eachother. Recently she moved out and hates my father, she accused him of stealing her Ciggerette lighters, calls him evil.. Our family is devastated, my father in pieces… How do we deal with this?
I have just read your article and just want to say thanks,very informative and made it a lot easier for my partner to understand the very important differences,her nan has just been diagnosed with alzheimers but she is 95!! so we just want to be able to let her enjoy the rest of her life the best way we can.Thanks again
Cher F says
I’m sorry, I’m still confused… how do I know what is the cause of the demetia. My doctor says we won’t know if it is Alzheimer’s for about 5 years. How do I know what causes my dementia and what to expect?
Xande Matthews says
Hi Cheryl, You have to keep in mind that Alzheimer is the disease causing Dementia and that it’s not the same. In order to know if it’s Alzheimer, doctors have to look inside the brain and up to now the only certain way to do this is after the death of a patient. An MRI or CT can see a lot but can not confirm a diagnosis of Alzheimer (yet).
But to answer your real question, What to expect? There are no 2 persons alike in patients with Dementia. Some symptoms may look a like but every person will be different from the other. You are never sure how Dementia will evolve, it might be stable for months, sometimes a year or maybe more, but eventually the symptoms will become worse.
So how to deal with it? The most important thing is to remember how the person was before the disease. All the changes in behavior after the onset of Dementia will be part of the disease. What I mean by this is that patients with Dementia might be mean to their direct family, say things they would normally never say, become aggressive or overly sexual active. You should always try to treat the person with Dementia like a real person and don’t correct him all the time. Try to help him in his activities which he can not do anymore and encourage him to do activities that he still can do. In this way you will keep his self esteem high. Don’t let him fail, but give him the chance to do the things he can still do.
The best thing to do is consult your Psychologist for advise on behavioral changes and check your doctor regularly on other physical complaints.
You can read some books about Dementia which might help you a little but eventually you will experience it yourself. Acceptance is important, and don’t think you can do it all by yourself, if you consult your psychologist there is a team of professionals to assist you. You might also ask for caregiver’s groups where people gather to speak about each others experiences with Dementia.
Great article, easy to follow!! Thanks a bunch 🙂
I’m a hospice home nurse, and found you’re article informative and easy to read. Great job!!