The Difference Between Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease

AlzheimerDementia is a term that is often misunderstood. Stemming from our last blog post about the difficulties of detecting dementia, let’s clarify its precise meaning. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, dementia is an “umbrella term” for a variety of conditions arising once the nerve cells in the brain no longer function properly. Dementia itself is not a disease- it is a category that describes the conditions of certain diseases. Dementia includes difficulty in the following areas: language, memory, perception, emotional behavior, personality, and cognitive skills. Dementia encompasses more than the memory loss that is common with aging, and it can result from a variety of conditions.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. Regrettably, Alzheimer’s disease affects an alarmingly high percentage of the elderly: one in eight people aged 65 or older and half of people aged 85 and older have Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease is due to a build-up of protein plaque and tangled nerve cells in the brain, but its direct causes are unknown. Symptoms for Alzheimer’s disease usually begin to appear a decade or so after the onset of damage. With time, the neurons lose functionality and communication between other neurons, and they eventually die. The Hippocampus, a part of the brain essential for memory, is particularly susceptible to this degeneration of neurons.

Although Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, other medical conditions that could lead to dementia include the following:

  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Huntington’s disease
  • Pick’s disease
  • Lyme’s disease

The following conditions put people at risk for dementia, but they can be reversed if found early enough:

  • Brain tumors
  • Changes in blood sugar, sodium, and calcium levels
  • Low vitamin B12 levels
  • Pressure hydrocephalus
  • Alcohol abuse

In terms of diagnosing yourself or a loved one, remember that a loss of cognitive abilities is often a product of aging. However, it is important to be aware of one’s susceptibility in order to detect dementia. The sooner dementia is diagnosed, the sooner the proper care and treatment can be given.

Photo credit:

Alzheimer’s Association, “2012 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures”

Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral Center

Penn State Hershey, “Dementia”

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