Alzheimer’s vs. Dementia: What’s the Difference?

What’s the difference?

Alzheimer’s and dementia are often used interchangeably, but each term holds a different meaning. Dementia is a broad title used to categorize a person’s declining ability to think, remember, or make decisions for themselves. Despite its prevalence, dementia is not a part of normal aging and risk factors vary from genetics to ethnicity. Alzheimer’s, on the other hand, is a type of dementia that accounts for 60-80% of dementia cases. In this scenario, abnormal brain structures called plaques and tangles lead to dementia symptoms that gradually worsen over time.

Other common dementias

  • Vascular dementia
  • Lewy body dementia (LBD)
  • Frontotemporal dementia (FTD)
  • Mixed dementia

Early signs

Although the early signs of Alzheimer’s and dementia are not always clear and vary from person-to-person, there are some common indicators you should know. These symptoms may develop over time and be misinterpreted as the usual process of aging. If you’ve noticed someone close to you is showing these early symptoms, it’s essential to set up an appointment with your physician. Some examples include:

  • Memory loss
  • Difficulty fulfilling usual tasks
  • Increased confusion

Disease stages 

There are several different structures used to grade the severity of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Still, medical providers usually categorize dementia as existing within one of seven stages.

  • Stage 1: No noticeable decline.
  • Stage 2: A very mild decline is noticeable. Your loved one may start to forget words and has slight problems with memory.
  • Stage 3: Your loved one may forget something they just read or start to misplace things. 
  • Stage 4: Obvious memory lapses are apparent. Your loved one may have trouble paying their bills, withdraw from socialization or lose interest in activities they once loved. A clinical diagnosis is typically made during this time.
  • Stage 5: There are many declines in cognitive function. Your loved one may rely on others to complete routine tasks.
  • Stage 6: Severe cognitive decline is taking place. Personality changes are apparent, and incontinence is typically present. Your loved one may have delusions and experience anxiety or increased paranoia.
  • Stage 7: This is the final stage of dementia. Loved ones are entirely dependent on others and it is important to monitor for signs of pain or discomfort.

*Please note that progression varies greatly, and not all will experience the above stages in this exact order.

 Treatments and care

Currently, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s or dementia, but medication can help. Similarly, Lutheran SeniorLife offers expert dementia services within our broad network of specialized care. These options provide intensive care for those suffering with Alzheimer’s and related dementias. Once an individual displays trouble with memory and activities of daily living (ADLs), it may be time to explore our service offerings. Contact us today to learn more.