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What Is The Difference Between Dementia And Alzheimer’s Mayo Clinic

Understanding Dementia Alzheimer’s Disease

Mayo Clinic Q& A podcast: Well being and hope for dementia patients, caregivers

While the terms dementia and Alzheimer’s disease often are used interchangeably, they actually have two different meanings. Dementia refers to a wide range of symptoms that affect a person’s ability to perform everyday activities independently. Alzheimer’s disease is the most well-known and common form of dementia. It’s a condition where brain cells decline in function.

Depending on the cause of dementia and there are many some dementia symptoms are reversible. While dementia generally involves memory loss, this symptom alone doesn’t mean that a person has dementia. It’s important to note that some treatable medical conditions can cause dementia symptoms. On the other hand, Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disorder that causes brain cells to degenerate and die. It’s a continuous decline in thinking, and behavioral and social skills, that disrupts a person’s ability to function independently.

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease include:

  • A decline in memory
  • Changes in language and communication skills

Diagnosing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease

Treating dementia and Alzheimer’s disease

Natalie Makepeace is a clinical social worker in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

For the safety of our patients, staff and visitors, Mayo Clinic has strict masking policies in place. Anyone shown without a mask was either recorded prior to COVID-19 or recorded in a non-patient care area where social distancing and other safety protocols were followed.

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What’s The Difference Between Alzheimer’s Disease And Dementia

ByRemy Melina09 September 2010

Dementia is an umbrella term that refers to a group of physical and mental symptoms that are severe enough to interfere with a person’s daily functions. The symptoms can be caused by various diseases or disorders.


Language difficulty, memory loss, poor judgment, confusion and changes in personality and mood are some of the symptoms of dementia, according to the Mayo Clinic. People with dementia may also lose their ability to solve problems or control their emotions. Other symptoms include difficulty with coordination and motor functions, paranoia, agitation, hallucinations and withdrawal from work or social activities.

In order to be diagnosed with dementia, the person must show serious problems with two or more brain functions, such as memory and language, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Doctors use a battery of screenings to determine the cause of the dementia. These include blood tests, mental status evaluations, neuropsychological testing and brain scans. In 90 percent of cases, doctors can accurately diagnose the cause of dementia symptoms , according to the Mayo Clinic.

Causes of general dementia include: Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, pugilistic Parkinson’s syndrome and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Some causes of dementia, such as a vitamin deficiency or drug interaction, are treatable and even reversible, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Alzheimer’s disease

What Are The Most Common Types Of Dementia

  • Alzheimers disease. This is the most common cause of dementia, accounting for 60 to 80 percent of cases. It is caused by specific changes in the brain. The trademark symptom is trouble remembering recent events, such as a conversation that occurred minutes or hours ago, while difficulty remembering more distant memories occurs later in the disease. Other concerns like difficulty with walking or talking or personality changes also come later. Family history is the most important risk factor. Having a first-degree relative with Alzheimers disease increases the risk of developing it by 10 to 30 percent.
  • Vascular dementia. About 10 percent of dementia cases are linked to strokes or other issues with blood flow to the brain. Diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol are also risk factors. Symptoms vary depending on the area and size of the brain impacted. The disease progresses in a step-wise fashion, meaning symptoms will suddenly get worse as the individual gets more strokes or mini-strokes.
  • Lewy body dementia. In addition to more typical symptoms like memory loss, people with this form of dementia may have movement or balance problems like stiffness or trembling. Many people also experience changes in alertness including daytime sleepiness, confusion or staring spells. They may also have trouble sleeping at night or may experience visual hallucinations .

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Alzheimers Is Not Reversible explains that once someone is diagnosed with Alzheimers, the outlook is quite grim. It is degenerative and incurable at this time, notes the source. Sources note the average life expectancy of a patient following a diagnosis of Alzheimers is about 8-10-years.

Meanwhile, adds the source, there are some causes of dementia , such as a negative drug interaction or a vitamin deficiency, that can actually be reversed with the right diagnosis and treatment. Until a proper diagnosis is made, the best approach to any dementia is engagement, communication and loving care, adds the site.

The Signs Of Normal Ageing And Dementia

end stage vascular dementia life expectancy

The table below lists some of the possible changes due to both normal ageing and early dementia. However, it is important to remember that everyone is different and not everyone with dementia will have all of these changes.

Other conditions may also account for some of them. For example, a person with depression can have problems making decisions, get confused easily and appear withdrawn or irritable.

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Signs Of Mild Alzheimers Disease

In mild Alzheimers disease, a person may seem to be healthy but has more and more trouble making sense of the world around him or her. The realization that something is wrong often comes gradually to the person and his or her family. Problems can include:

  • Memory loss
  • Poor judgment leading to bad decisions
  • Loss of spontaneity and sense of initiative
  • Taking longer to complete normal daily tasks
  • Repeating questions
  • Increased sleeping
  • Loss of bowel and bladder control

A common cause of death for people with Alzheimers disease is aspiration pneumonia. This type of pneumonia develops when a person cannot swallow properly and takes food or liquids into the lungs instead of air.

There is currently no cure for Alzheimers, though there are medicines that can treat the symptoms of the disease.

What Are The Symptoms Of Dementia And Alzheimers

The symptoms of dementia vary depending on its cause. The common symptoms are:

  • Problems in communication and speech
  • Alterations in thinking ability
  • Problems with judgment and reasoning
  • Abnormal visual perceptions such as seeing things which are not there , inability to detect movement or see the difference between colors

Alzheimers disease progresses through different stages. Thus, the signs and symptoms may vary according to the stage of the disease. The typical signs of Alzheimers are:

  • The person has a progressive decline in memory
  • They report the inability to focus and concentrate
  • The person repeatedly asks the same questions
  • They forget something they just read
  • They have trouble staying organized
  • They find it difficult to make and execute plans
  • They tend to forget names
  • A lack of interest in the surroundings: the person avoids conversations or participating in activities
  • Inability to remember personal details such as phone number and home address
  • They may confuse people and relations, for instance, they may confuse their wife with their mother.
  • They forget names but may recognize faces.
  • They may also exhibit loss of bowel and bladder control.
  • The person needs help for basic needs such as eating, drinking, sitting up and walking. They may even forget how to smile or swallow their food properly.
  • They often develop stiffness and joint deformities.

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What Is Dementia Symptoms Types And Diagnosis

Dementia is the loss of cognitive functioning thinking, remembering, and reasoning to such an extent that it interferes with a persons daily life and activities. Some people with dementia cannot control their emotions, and their personalities may change. Dementia ranges in severity from the mildest stage, when it is just beginning to affect a persons functioning, to the most severe stage, when the person must depend completely on others for basic activities of living.

Dementia is more common as people grow older but it is not a normal part of aging. Many people live into their 90s and beyond without any signs of dementia.

There are several different forms of dementia, including Alzheimers disease. A persons symptoms can vary depending on the type.

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First Signs Of Alzheimers Disease

The Difference Between Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease

The earliest symptomatic stage is called mild cognitive impairment, says Dr. Caselli. Early signs include:

  • Memory loss that disrupts daily life
  • Challenges in planning or solving problems
  • Difficulty completing familiar tasks
  • New problems with words in speaking or writing
  • Misplacing items and an inability to retrace steps
  • Changes in mood and personality

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Visions Of The Future

Alzheimers and Parkinsons cause sweeping changes to the landscape of the brain before there are any behavioral shifts blood vessels atrophy, neurons die prematurely and snarls of misfolded proteins disrupt communication between surviving neurons. Current techniques for detecting these shifts, including PET imaging at $3,000 to $6,000, can identify Parkinsons and Alzheimers pathology in the brain before symptoms begin, but theyre too invasive and costly for widespread use. But identifying parallel changes in the retina is a different story.

Maya Koronyo-Hamaoui, a neuroscientist and professor of neurosurgery, studies early Alzheimers intervention and treatment at Cedars-Sinai. She and her team have pioneered a technique to visualize the plaques associated with Alzheimers in the retinal neurons of live patients with mild cognitive impairments, at a cost of about $285 a scan. All it requires is modified ophthalmological equipment and a lot of curry flavoring.

If Koronyo-Hamaouis imaging system seems low-tech to neuroscientists accustomed to PETs radioactive tracers and million-dollar scanners, Ruogu Fangs technique for Parkinsons screening is downright stone age.

Initial results suggest that computer algorithms are able to use these fundus images to distinguish Parkinsons patients from healthy controls with an accuracy upward of 70 percent.

The Effects Of Alzheimers On The Brain

Damage to the brain begins years before symptoms appear. Abnormal protein deposits form plaques and tangles in the brain of someone with Alzheimers disease. Connections between cells are lost, and they begin to die. In advanced cases, the brain shows significant shrinkage.

Its impossible to diagnose Alzheimers with complete accuracy while a person is alive. The diagnosis can only be confirmed when the brain is examined under a microscope during an autopsy. However, specialists are able to make the correct diagnosis up to 90 percent of the time.

The symptoms of Alzheimers and dementia can overlap, but there can be some differences.

Both conditions can cause:

  • behavioral changes
  • difficulty speaking, swallowing, or walking in advanced stages of the disease

Some types of dementia will share some of these symptoms, but they include or exclude other symptoms that can help make a differential diagnosis. Lewy body dementia , for example, has many of the same later symptoms as Alzheimers. However, people with LBD but are more likely to experience initial symptoms such as visual hallucinations, difficulties with balance, and sleep disturbances.

People with dementia due to Parkinsons or Huntingtons disease are more likely to experience involuntary movement in the early stages of the disease.

Treatment for dementia will depend on the exact cause and type of dementia, but many treatments for dementia and Alzheimers will overlap.

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Other Diseases Can Trigger Dementia

While Alzheimers is a disease unto itself, dementia symptoms could result from other diseases, notes For example, according to the source, common causes of dementia are Huntingtons disease, Parkinsons disease, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

The latter example is actually a fatal neurodegenerative disease, while Huntingtons disease results in the death of brain cells . Those who have Parkinsons disease, which is most often associated with shaking, will typically develop dementia over a long period of time following the initial diagnosis.

How Alzheimers Is Different

The Difference Between Alzheimerâs Disease and Dementia

At its onset, Alzheimers tends to affect more of your learning and memory than other types of dementia, which might be more likely to impact your planning or language. In the brain of a person with Alzheimers disease, there are buildups of beta amyloid protein fragments between nerve cells as well as tangles of the protein tau inside cells. Scientists dont know exactly how these plaques and tangles contribute to Alzheimers disease, but some believe they throw off communication between nerve cells and interfere with normal cell processes, according to the Alzheimers Association. As the disease progresses and more of the brain is affected, a person may experience behavior changes, confusion, delusions, and difficulty speaking or walking. Other types of dementia can progress differently, depending on what parts of the brain are affected.

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Myths About Dementia And Alzheimers Disease

The right treatment and support are critical to the well-being of anyone diagnosed with any form of dementia, so its important to know fact from fiction when it comes to these common myths.

Myth: Dementia is a normal part of aging.

Fact: Dementia is a disease of the brainnot a normal part of aging. Forgetting where you put your keys is a common problem for a lot of people as they age. But signs of dementia are more than just moments of forgetfulness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention . With dementia, a person may be unable to complete ordinary tasks at home or at work, get lost in familiar places and forget the function of common items. When these symptoms appear, its time to see a doctor.

Myth: You cant reduce your risk of getting Alzheimers disease or other kinds of dementiayou either get it or you dont.

Fact: Adopting healthy habits can lower your risk of developing dementia, or at least delay the onset. Healthy body, healthy mind, says Dr. Caselli. What we can control, we should control. Though he adds that even a lifetime of healthy habits is no guarantee of protection.

Myth: Since there is no cure, theres no point in getting a diagnosis.

Myth: A diagnosis of Alzheimers or another form of dementia means life as you know it will soon end.

Myth: Coping with a family member with Alzheimers is overwhelmingly difficult.

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Walking And Physical Movement

Vascular dementia: Vascular dementia is often accompanied by some physical challenge. If a person has a stroke, they may have limited movement on one side of her body. Both the cognitive and physical impairments related to vascular dementia usually develop at the same time since they are often the result of a sudden condition like a stroke.

Alzheimers: Often, mental abilities like memory or judgment decline initially, and then as Alzheimers progresses into the middle stages, physical abilities like balance or walking show some deterioration.

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Talking With A Doctor

After considering the persons symptoms and ordering screening tests, the doctor may offer a preliminary diagnosis or refer the person to a Cognitive Dementia and Memory Service clinic, neurologist, geriatrician or psychiatrist.Some people may be resistant to the idea of visiting a doctor. In some cases, people do not realise, or else they deny, that there is anything wrong with them. This can be due to the brain changes of dementia that interfere with the ability to recognise or appreciate the changes occurring. Others have an insight of the changes, but may be afraid of having their fears confirmed.One of the most effective ways to overcome this problem is to find another reason for a visit to the doctor. Perhaps suggest a check-up for a symptom that the person is willing to acknowledge, such as blood pressure, or suggest a review of a long-term condition or medication.Another way is to suggest that it is time for both of you to have a physical check-up. Any expressed anxiety by the person is an excellent opportunity to suggest a visit to the doctor. Be sure to provide a lot of reassurance. A calm, caring attitude at this time can help overcome the person’s very real worries and fears.Sometimes, your friend or family member may refuse to visit the doctor to ask about their symptoms. You can take a number of actions to get support including:

  • talking with other carers who may have had to deal with similar situations
  • contacting your local Aged Care Assessment Team

The Diagnostic Process May Differ

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There can be more involved in arriving at a diagnosis of Alzheimers versus other forms of dementia. Aside from reviewing your medical history and ruling out other conditions, you might be evaluated by a neuropsychologist trained in brain conditions, notes the Mayo Clinic.

However, you might undergo brain-imaging tests that may indicate a progressive loss of brain cells that are associated with Alzheimers disease. However, its difficult to distinguish normal brain cell decline with Alzheimers using scans, so its not normally used in the diagnosis. Researchers are working on other methods to distinguish Alzheimers, such as using a scan that can detect an abnormal protein called tau.

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What Are The Signs Of Alzheimer’s Disease

Scientists continue to unravel the complex brain changes involved in the onset and progression of Alzheimers disease. It seems likely that damage to the brain starts a decade or more before memory and other cognitive problems appear. During this preclinical stage of Alzheimers disease, people seem to be symptom-free, but toxic changes are taking place in the brain.

Damage occurring in the brain of someone with Alzheimers disease begins to show itself in very early clinical signs and symptoms. For most people with Alzheimersthose who have the late-onset varietysymptoms first appear in their mid-60s. Signs of early-onset Alzheimers begin between a persons 30s and mid-60s.

The first symptoms of Alzheimers vary from person to person. Memory problems are typically one of the first signs of cognitive impairment related to Alzheimers disease. Decline in non-memory aspects of cognition, such as word-finding, vision/spatial issues, and impaired reasoning or judgment, may also signal the very early stages of Alzheimers disease. And some people may be diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment. As the disease progresses, people experience greater memory loss and other cognitive difficulties.

Alzheimers disease progresses in several stages: preclinical, mild , moderate, and severe .


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