Differences Between Alzheimer’s and Dementia

Alzheimer’s and dementia are two different conditions. Dementia refers to a decline in cognitive abilities such as memory loss and difficulty thinking. Alzheimer’s disease affects the brain and produces dementia. Alzheimer’s is just one of several varieties of dementia, each with its unique cause.

Differences Between Alzheimer's and Dementia
Differences Between Alzheimer’s and Dementia

While the phrases “Alzheimer’s disease” and “dementia” are commonly used interchangeably, it is critical to understand the difference between the two. Dementia is not a distinct disease. Rather, it refers to a group of symptoms caused by physical abnormalities of the brain. Alzheimer’s disease is the leading cause of dementia, accounting for 60-80% of all cases.
Overall, understand that Alzheimer’s disease is a distinct condition, whereas dementia refers to a set of related diseases, one of which is Alzheimer’s. In other words, while Alzheimer’s disease is an example of dementia, not all dementias are Alzheimer’s.

To be more specific, let’s have a look at each disease and then find out the differences between Alzheimer’s and dementia diseases.

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Alzheimer’s disease is a neurological condition in which brain cells die, resulting in a loss of thinking skills and memory. The brain is affected by Alzheimer’s disease. The symptoms are minor at first and then worsen with time. It’s named after Dr. Alois Alzheimer, who initially described the condition in 1906.

Alzheimer’s disease symptoms include memory loss, linguistic impairments, and impulsive or unpredictable behavior. Plaques and tangles in the brain are one of the most distinguishing symptoms of the illness. Another hallmark is a breakdown in communication between nerve cells, or neurons, in the brain.

These characteristics imply that information cannot easily flow between different parts of the brain, or between the brain and the muscles or organs. Alzheimer’s disease affects around seven out of every ten people with dementia.

There are two primary forms of Alzheimer’s disease:

Sporadic Alzheimer’s disease: The most prevalent type is sporadic Alzheimer’s disease. It usually occurs after 65 years of age. We don’t know all about its cause.
Familial Alzheimer’s disease: A relatively uncommon genetic disorder is the cause of familial Alzheimer’s disease, sometimes known as “hereditary” Alzheimer’s disease. Individuals in their 40s and 50s typically have symptoms. The term “younger onset dementia” describes this.

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease

The symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease worsen with time because the illness is progressive. One important aspect is that memory loss is often one of the initial symptoms to appear.

Over months or years, the symptoms progressively become apparent. A person may need to see a doctor if they appear over several hours or days, as this could be a sign of a stroke.

Alzheimer’s disease symptoms include:

  • Memory loss: A person may experience trouble recalling and absorbing new knowledge. This may result in asking the same queries or having the same talks over, losing things, neglecting appointments or events.
  • Cognitive deficits: An individual may struggle with judgment, logic, and demanding activities. This may result in diminished awareness of dangers and safety, financial hardship, or trouble paying bills. having trouble deciding, finding it difficult to finish multi-stage tasks, including dressing.
  • Recognition issues: A person may lose their ability to identify people or objects or to operate simple instruments. These concerns are not related to visual impairments.
  • Spatial awareness issues: A person may experience trouble balancing, trip over objects more frequently, spill things, or struggle to align clothes with their bodies when getting dressed.
  • Issues related to speaking, reading, or writing: An individual may experience trouble coming up with words that are often used, or they may commit more mistakes in speech, spelling, or writing.
  • Personality and behavior changes: This may include increased upset, anger, or worry, lack of interest in activities, decreased empathy, excessive, compulsive, or improper behavior in social situations

What causes Alzheimer’s Disease?

The brain has millions of neurons (brain cells). These cells organize how the brain stores memories, forms habits, and shapes our personalities. Neurotransmitters are molecules that transfer signals between brain cells.

Many mechanisms in Alzheimer’s patients affect these cells and molecules. This includes:

Amyloid plaque deposit: Amyloid plaques are deposits outside of brain cells that prevent the cells from correctly transmitting impulses.

Neurofibrillary tangles: These are deposits within brain cells that destroy them by limiting food and energy.

Neuronal death shrinks the cortex (the brain’s outer layer). The cortex is critical for memory, language, and judgment.

Scientists are unaware of what causes the plaques and tangles in Alzheimer’s disease. Suspected reasons include:

  • issues with blood vessels
  • Genetic linkages and
  • hormonal changes.

Mutations in three genes have been linked to an increase in amyloid plaque development in persons with familial Alzheimer’s disease. Other ‘risk-factor genes’ may enhance your chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease earlier in life.

Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease

To be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, a person must experience memory loss, cognitive decline, or behavioral changes that impair their ability to function in daily life.

Friends and relatives may detect the symptoms of dementia before the individual.

There is no single diagnostic test for Alzheimer’s disease. If a doctor detects the disease, they will question the patient — and occasionally their family or caregivers — about their symptoms, experiences, and medical history.

The doctor may also conduct the following tests:

  • Cognitive and memory tests analyze cognitive abilities, while neurological function exams evaluate balance, senses, and reflexes.
  • Blood or Urine Tests
  • A CT or MRI scan of the brain can be used for genetic testing.
  • A variety of evaluation techniques are available to evaluate cognitive function.

Alzheimer’s Treatment and Management

There is presently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, however pharmacological and non-drug treatments may help with symptoms. While there is no way to stop the disease’s progression, there are medications that can temporarily improve cognitive function.

First-line treatment strategies include support groups and other nondrug treatments

  • Talk therapy, such as appointments with a mental health counselor or meetings with a support group, to deal with the emotional issues of this condition.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of psychotherapy used to treat depression and anxiety.
  • Cognitive stimulation therapy keeps the mind engaged with themed activity sessions that challenge the brain.
  • Cognitive rehabilitation, is to regain lost skills or build new compensatory skills.
  • “Life story work” is telling or documenting personal events and recollections to improve mood, well-being, and mental function.
  • Singing, dancing, art, and other activities that keep patients physically, mentally, and socially involved can help enhance confidence and cognitive skills while also reducing anxiety.

Drugs and Medications

The FDA has approved the following five medications to treat cognitive symptoms of Alzheimer’s:

  • donepezil (Aricept)
  • galantamine (Razadyne)
  • rivastigmine (Exelon)
  • memantine (Namenda)
  • donepezil and memantine (Namzaric)


The term “dementia” refers to a broad range of cognitive impairments that significantly disrupt daily functioning, including memory, language, problem-solving, and other cognitive functions. Alzheimer’s disease is the most frequent cause of dementia.
Dementia is more than just one disease. It’s an umbrella word for a group of symptoms that people may encounter if they have a range of disorders, including Alzheimer’s. Abnormal brain alterations create the disease known as “dementia”. Dementia symptoms cause a deterioration in thinking capabilities, also known as cognitive capacities, which is severe enough to limit daily life and independent function. They also have an impact on behaviors, emotions, and relationships.

Symptoms of Dementia

Dementia symptoms occur when once-healthy neurons (nerve cells) in the brain cease to function, lose connections with other brain cells, and die. While everyone loses some neurons as they age, those with dementia lose significantly more.

Signs and symptoms vary based on the type and may include:

  • Experience memory loss, poor judgment, and bewilderment.
  • Difficulty communicating, interpreting and expressing ideas, or reading and writing
  • Wandering and becoming lost in a familiar neighborhood.
  • Trouble managing money properly and paying bills
  • Repeating questions
  • Using unfamiliar terms to refer to familiar objects
  • It takes longer to complete routine everyday duties.
  • Losing interest in regular everyday activities or events.
  • Having hallucinations, delusions, or paranoia
  • Acting impulsively
  • Ignoring the feelings of others
  • Loss of balance and mobility issues

What Causes Dementia?

Dementia is caused by a range of diseases that harm brain cells. This injury disrupts brain cells’ ability to communicate with one another. When brain cells cannot interact regularly, it can have an impact on thought, behavior, and emotions.

The brain is divided into numerous distinct areas, each of which is in charge of a variety of functions (such as judgment, movement, and memory). When cells in a certain region are injured, the region is unable to perform its normal functions.

Different types of dementia are linked to specific types of brain cell destruction in specific parts of the brain. For example, in Alzheimer’s disease, excessive quantities of specific proteins within and outside brain cells make it difficult for brain cells to remain healthy and communicate with one another. The hippocampus is the brain region responsible for learning and memory, and its neurons are frequently the first to be injured. That’s why memory loss is frequently one of the first signs of Alzheimer’s.
While the majority of brain alterations that produce dementia are irreversible and increase with time, thinking and memory impairments caused by the following diseases may improve when treated or addressed:

  • Depression
  • Medication side effects
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Thyroid issues
  • Vitamin deficiency

Diagnosis of Dementia

To diagnose dementia, doctors first assess whether a person has an underlying, potentially treatable, condition that may relate to cognitive difficulties. A physical exam to measure blood pressure and other vital signs, as well as laboratory tests of blood and other fluids to check levels of various chemicals, hormones, and vitamins, can help uncover or rule out possible causes of symptoms.

A study of a person’s medical and family history can reveal vital information regarding their risk for dementia. Typical questions can include whether dementia runs in the family, how and when symptoms started, changes in behavior and personality, and whether the person is taking any medications that could cause or worsen symptoms.

The following methods can also be used to diagnose dementia:

  • Cognitive and neurological tests
  • Brain scans
  • Computed tomography (CT)
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Positron emission tomography (PET)
  • Psychiatric evaluation
  • Genetic tests
  • Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) tests
  • Blood tests

Early diagnosis of symptoms is critical since some reasons can be effectively treated. However, in many cases, the etiology of dementia remains unexplained and cannot be adequately treated. Still, getting an early diagnosis might help you manage your disease and prepare ahead. People with early stages of dementia may be able to continue with their daily routines. As the condition worsens, patients will need to develop new coping techniques.

Dementia Treatment and Management

Non-drug treatment

Dementia treatment mostly focuses on symptom management, particularly emotional and behavioral problems. Before attempting medication, your doctor may prescribe the following:

  • Occupational Therapy
  • Making beneficial adjustments to your home and lifestyle
  • Simplify task

Dementia Medication

Some FDA-approved medications that may improve your cognitive functions and prevent the course of dementia include:

Cholinesterase inhibitors: These keep your body from breaking down acetylcholine, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that helps you remember, learn, pay attention, and move particular muscles. Cholinesterase inhibitors may lessen or prevent your symptoms from worsening. These medications are not effective for everyone and can have major adverse effects such as peptic ulcer disease, weight loss, and cardiovascular issues. Examples include:

  • donepezil (Aricept) for all stages,
  • galantamine (Razadyne) for mild to moderate stages,
  • rivastigmine (Exelon) for all stages as a patch and mild to moderate stages as a pill,
  • memantine: medication that reduces the activity of a neurotransmitter called glutamate, which is linked with memory formation.

This drug, like cholinesterase inhibitors, is not effective for everyone.

The FDA recently approved two medications for the treatment of mild Alzheimer’s disease: Aducanumab-avwa (Aduhelm) and lecanemab-irmb (Leqembi). Both are monoclonal antibodies that reduce the formation of amyloid plaques in the brain. Doctors believe that these plaques contribute to Alzheimer’s disease-related memory loss. However, addressing these plaques may or may not relieve your symptoms. Consult your doctor about whether these medications will be effective in your specific scenario.

Differences Between Alzheimer’s and Dementia

Dementia refers to a set of symptoms that make it difficult to recall, think clearly, make decisions, or control your emotions.Alzheimer’s disease is a neurological brain condition characterized by memory impairments. It is named after a German physician, Aloïs Alzheimer, who originally characterized it in 1906.
It is important to keep in mind that dementia is not a disease in itself and that a variety of disorders can lead to the onset of dementia symptoms.It is crucial to highlight that a person can have Alzheimer’s without showing signs of dementia.
Alzheimer’s disease has many different causes, but two important ones are the accumulation of two molecules in the brain: tau and amyloid. These group together to create microscopic structures known as plaques and tangles in the brain when certain requirements are not met. These interfere with the brain’s ability to function normally.Dementia is caused by a range of diseases that harm brain cells. This injury disrupts brain cells’ ability to communicate with one another. When brain cells cannot interact regularly, it can have an impact on thought, behavior, and emotions.

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About Author

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Jyoti Bashyal

Jyoti Bashyal, a graduate of the Central Department of Chemistry, is an avid explorer of the molecular realm. Fueled by her fascination with chemical reactions and natural compounds, she navigates her field's complexities with precision and passion. Outside the lab, Jyoti is dedicated to making science accessible to all. She aspires to deepen audiences' understanding of the wonders of various scientific subjects and their impact on the world by sharing them with a wide range of readers through her writing.

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