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Understanding the Difference between Dementia and Alzheimer's

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

To a lay person, dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease may seem like the same condition, however, they are different diseases with their own collection of symptoms. According to the National Institute on Aging, Dementia is a brain disorder that affects communication and performance of daily activities and Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia that specifically affects parts of the brain that control thought, memory and language.

What is Dementia?

Dementia is an umbrella term for a set of symptoms including impaired thinking and memory. Dementia is a term that is often associated with the cognitive decline of aging. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer's disease accounts for 60 to 80 percent of cases. Vascular dementia, which occurs after a stroke, is the second most common form of dementia. Other common causes of dementia are Huntington’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. While symptoms of dementia can vary, two mental functions related to memory, communication and language, ability to focus and pay attention, reasoning and judgment, and visual perception must be greatly impaired to be considered for a diagnosis of dementia.

What is Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. It is a progressive disease that begins with mild memory loss and can possibly lead to the loss of the ability to manage day-to-day tasks, such as having a conversation with someone. Alzheimer’s disease involves the part of the brain that controls thought, memory, and language. Sadly, over time the disease can seriously affect the patient’s quality of life. Research has found evidence that there are several risk factors related to Alzheimer’s disease, which include common conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and even lesser known issues such as a low level of the vitamin folate.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, approximately 200,000 Americans have Early Onset Alzheimer’s, which affects individuals under the age of 65. Many people with Early Onset Alzheimer’s disease are in their 40s and 50s. As health care providers do not often look for the disease at such a young age, getting an accurate diagnosis can be a frustrating process. Individuals who have Early Onset Alzheimer’s may be in any stage of dementia.

What is important to remember is currently there is no single test for any stage of Alzheimer’s. It requires a comprehensive medical workup which should include cognitive tests, a neurological exam, and brain imaging.

To learn more about Alzheimer’s Disease

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, there are a number of reputable resources available so you can learn all you can about this condition.

The Alzheimer’s Association is the leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer's care, support and research. They offer national information as well as local resources right in your own community. They also offer a 24/7 toll-free help line in more than 200 different languages.

To learn more about Dementia

The National Institute on Aging provides a wide variety of resources about dementia and Alzheimer’s disease that include treatment options, caregiving, and background information so you can learn more about these two afflictions. You can also find archived webinars and latest news and findings related to dementia research.

Dementia.com is all about helping people cope and care for those with dementia. It also offers steps on how to handle the initial shock of the diagnosis, what to consider moving forward, and risk factors associated when coping with thoughts of the diagnosis for the long-term.

While many people think of hotel and rental car discounts when it comes to AARP, they offer a wide variety of information and resources for a variety of different medical issues, including dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Much of their information focuses on the role of the caregiver.


A diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease can be shocking for both the patient and the family. By learning all you can about these conditions, you will be ready to help with the care of yourself or your loved one. Information can be your greatest weapon against any diagnosis. Keep the lines of communication open with your medical team so together you can develop a comprehensive plan to manage your disease.

Dementia Alzheimers

Staff Writer, Julie Cowan, RN, BSN