What’s the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia?

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Image: Ruslan Guzov/Shutterstock

It seems that people try to use Alzheimer’s disease and dementia interchangeably, but do you know the differences between the two? Patients and family members alike can easily become confused as both diseases concern the functionality of the brain. The main difference is this: dementia is a brain disorder that affects how the patient communicates and performs daily activities; Alzheimer’s affects the patient’s memory, language and ability to control their thoughts. Continue reading below to learn more about these two anomalies, and how to prevent them.

Let’s talk about dementia first. Do you know that it’s a syndrome, not a disease? It works as an umbrella that many diseases fall under, including Alzheimer’s, but they are not synonyms. Sufferers of dementia have difficulty with cognitive tasks, like reasoning and remembering correctly. It has a host of symptoms (forgetfulness, confusion, lack of awareness of time, repeated questions, poor decision-making), and there are different types of dementia. A person can have mixed dementia in fact, meaning a combination of types. Dementia becomes more likely to occur in a person as they age, but there are other causes, such as: Alzheimer’s, a stroke, depression, chronic drug use, or vascular disease. However, dementia is possible to be treated. While the effects cannot be reversed, medication can help manage the dementia. An in-home aide can be a huge help for dementia patients, but assisted living or a nursing home will probably be the inevitable result as time goes on. Everything depends on what type of dementia the patient has, other medical issues they’re suffering from, other risk factors, etc. Please consult with a doctor to discuss particulars and what the diagnosis will mean for your family member personally.

Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, and there is no known cure at this time. It will slowly impair the brain’s ability to think clearly and recall memories. Abnormal protein deposits will cause plaques to grow in the sufferer’s brain, breaking cell connections and killing them gradually. Doctors aren’t sure what causes Alzheimer’s, either. Symptoms include: little or no recall of recent events/conversations, disorientation, depression, behavioral changes, impaired judgment, difficulty speaking, walking, or swallowing (as the disease progresses, the patient will lose more and more control over their functions). The scariest part about Alzheimer’s is that it is terminal. There are three stages that the patient will go through. Depending on the age of the patient, they could move through the stages in as little as three years or at most, twenty years. The average time span from diagnosis to death is four to eight years.

To prevent Alzheimer’s and dementia, there are six “pillars” for a healthy lifestyle: regular exercise, healthy diet, mental stimulation, quality sleep, stress management, and an active social life. Consider these methods of prevention for yourself or a loved one:

  • Build muscle (to pump up the brain)
  • Protect your head (head trauma increases risk for disease)
  • Develop new friendships
  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables
  • Drink a daily cup of green tea
  • Take up strategy games, puzzles or riddles
  • Learn something new
  • Establish a regular sleep schedule
  • Work in daily meditation exercises
  • Don’t smoke
  • Drink only in moderation

Kaitlyn is a graduate from Lee University and is a staff editor for R.H. Boyd Publishing. She enjoys travel, books and penguins. When she's not working, she dreams of seeing the world.