The Difference Between Dementia and Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s and dementia are most commonly associated with the elderly. But the two words do not designate the same disease. So why is knowing the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s so important?
An accurate diagnosis means the proper medication, remedies, and support, and understanding the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia will help lead to it. So, let’s dive in and find out everything there is to know about the difference between these two conditions!
Dementia vs. Alzheimer’s: Definitions and Statistics
Since both dementia and Alzheimer’s affect the elderly, it’s tough to distinguish them. They both can cause memory loss, a decline in the ability to think and communicate, and difficulties performing routine daily activities.
Dementia is a syndrome that groups symptoms related to declining cognitive mental health. So, is Alzheimer’s a form of dementia? Yes—Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia, the most common one. Alzheimer’s, as opposed to another type of dementia, might require treatment with a cognition-enhancing drug instead of an antidepressant.
Alzheimer’s vs. dementia facts uncover that while dementia is a general term used to portray symptoms that impact memory, reasoning, and communication abilities, Alzheimer’s more profoundly affects memory, language, and thoughts and gets worse with time.
Not surprisingly, a lot of people with dementia never receive a diagnosis officially. The delay in diagnosing it leads to limited dementia treatment options. However, early diagnosis of the disease has the potential to save $118,000 per patient.
The World Health Organization announced that around 50 million people worldwide have dementia. The epidemiological prognosis seems pessimistic—it is estimated that one in three children born today will be affected. Moreover, the cost of dementia care and treatment is predicted to reach $2 trillion globally by 2030.
Furthermore, the number of patients continues to increase. The National Institutes of Health reported that 6.08 million people were diagnosed with dementia in the US. Of those, about 5 million had Alzheimer’s. These same records are expected to double by 2050.
Alzheimer’s vs. Dementia Symptoms
It’s essential to distinguish the symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease symptoms include:
- difficulty remembering recent events or conversations
- apathy and depression
- impaired judgment
- disorientation and confusion
- behavioral changes
- problems in speaking, swallowing, or walking in the advanced stages of the disease
Nevertheless, scientists have observed the accumulation of tau and beta-amyloid proteins in the brain in both Alzheimer’s and some types of dementia. These proteins lead to cell death by diminishing the connections between brain cells and starting the impairment of brain function. The brain shows significant shrinkage as the disease’s progresses.
On the other hand, dementia is a syndrome that denotes a deteriorative decline in mental function, almost entirely nonreversible. Brain function decays day after day. So, what are the early signs of dementia? The early symptoms of dementia can be mild. For example, patients complain of single episodes of forgetfulness. As the disease progresses, people have trouble keeping track of time and tend to lose their way in familiar settings. But still, it’s easy to miss the early signs of dementia.
Patients also develop poor memory and confusion as the disease progresses further. It becomes harder to bring to mind names and faces. Personal hygiene also becomes problematic. Most dementia signs consist of:
- repeated questions
- inadequate self-care, and
- poor decision-making
When we compare Alzheimer’s vs. dementia signs and symptoms, we can see that in the advanced dementia stages, people with dementia become incapable of caring for themselves. They struggle even more with recalling the people and places they’re familiar with, tracking the time, and keeping oriented. The behavior continues to vary and can turn into depression and aggression. All these features, which result from a deterioration of brain function, comprise the most common dementia symptoms.
Alzheimer’s disease is a specific disorder that gradually destroys memory and cognitive function. Abnormal proteins form plaques and deposits in the brains of Alzheimer’s disease patients. The effects of Alzheimer’s on the brain begin years before symptoms emerge, and they are permanent.
As for the difference between Alzheimer’s and frontotemporal dementia (the least common dementia type) symptoms, it’s essential to know that early changes in Alzheimer’s disease include problems with daily memory, while in the early stages of frontotemporal dementia (FTD), patients still remember recent events.
Alzheimer’s and Dementia Causes
Dementia is more commonly developed with aging. Many disorders can cause dementia, including degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Huntington’s. Each condition causes damage to a different set of brain cells, but the final result is always dementia. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for about 60%–70% of all cases of dementia. Other causes of dementia could be a stroke, vascular disease, depression, chronic drug use, infections (such as HIV), etc.
If a patient possesses more than one type of dementia, that is called mixed dementia. Often, people with mixed dementia have numerous conditions that may add to it. Data on Alzheimer’s vs. dementia causes reveal that, unlike dementia, in Alzheimer’s, the precise cause of the disease is unidentified. However, a recent study demonstrated that those with type 2 diabetes in the elderly increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
But what causes the most common type of dementia? Looking at the difference between Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia (VaD), we come to the conclusion that while vascular dementia is often caused by an acute event, like a stroke, or transient ischemic attack, what causes Alzheimer’s isn’t fully understood. However, some contributing factors include genetics, lifestyle, and other environmental factors.
Alzheimer’s research continues to hunt down and question the link between the two diseases, although it’s still not fully understood. Some studies demonstrated that defects in insulin and insulin-like growth factor receptors in the brain could negatively reflect on cognitive functions, mood, and metabolism. All of these components are observed in Alzheimer’s disease. Dementia research evolves intending to treat and potentially prevent the development of this debilitating disease in the future.
How the Difference Between Dementia and Alzheimer’s Is Established and Diagnosed
To establish a dementia diagnosis, a doctor must find two or three cognitive brain areas in decline, including memory loss, language impairment, disorientation, and disorganization. A neurologist typically performs dementia vs. Alzheimer’s test that consists of several mental-skill challenges.
One dementia test includes the Hopkins verbal learning test, which consists of memorizing a list of 12 words followed by a recall of the words. A well-established test is drawing lines to connect a series of numbers and letters in a complicated sequence, which is used to evaluate driving skills.
Unfortunately, there is no definitive Alzheimer’s test. The diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease often relies on the exclusion of other causes of dementia. The truth is that a firm diagnosis is only possible during an autopsy by examining the brain tissue under a microscope.
A PET scan could make a difference in dementia vs. Alzheimer’s diagnosis, since it has a 95% accuracy. However, PET scans are helpful only in patients who have typical symptoms, such as having trouble recalling their hobbies or avoiding being social. All of these alarming signs (abandoning hobbies, social activities, work projects, or sports) could be early signs of Alzheimer’s disease.
However, Cognetivity Neurosciences has recently developed an app that exploits a five-minute test able to measure cognitive function and spot brain impairment by using visual stimuli and artificial intelligence. Its developers promise that patients will receive an accurate, early diagnosis.
By allowing patients to track their cognitive health, they can adequately plan for their future. This unique platform aims to detect early onset dementia while measuring the effectiveness of treatment and monitoring the progression of the disease.
Unfortunately, by the time the patient has problems remembering their children’s names, it’s almost undoubtedly too late to take on any meaningful intervention. Keeping in mind that all dementia types make it extremely difficult for patients and healthcare systems, using this app could significantly improve the rates of early detection of dementia at the first point of contact with the health system for all patients.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease During the Pandemic
According to a study, people in all dementia and Alzheimer’s stages are at higher risk for the coronavirus, and they are more likely to have worse outcomes. As a matter of fact, people with dementia are twice as likely to contract COVID-19 compared to the general population. Moreover, more dementia patients have died of the virus compared to the general population.
In addition, the study published in the Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association showed that specific kinds of dementia have greater risk than others. For instance, those with vascular dementia showed the highest risk. As for senile dementia vs. Alzheimer’s, those with senile dementia had a higher risk of the virus.
One of the reasons why dementia and Alzheimer’s patients are at the greater risk of coronavirus is that their blood barrier is damaged, which makes it easy for bacteria and viruses to reach their brain. Moreover, both diseases can impact people’s ability to practice social distance, wear a mask, or clean their hands properly and frequently.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s Treatment
The treatment options are also different. In some cases, treating the underlying conditions that cause dementia helps. Dementia due to medications, tumors, metabolic disorders, or hypoglycemia are all conditions that should respond well to treatment. Unfortunately, in most cases, dementia isn’t reversible. But some forms of dementia are treatable with the proper medication.
Alzheimer’s medication includes:
- antipsychotic drugs for behavioral changes
- cholinesterase inhibitors for memory loss
- alternative solutions that aim to promote brain capacity or overall health (coconut or fish oil, antidepressants, or drugs for sleep problems)
Although there’s no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, there are several options to help manage the symptoms. And as there are Alzheimer’s vs. dementia differences in the symptoms and signs, there are differences in these options, as well.
A promising new player is an experimental drug that reinforces damaged brain cells. The novel drug, part of the dementia medications, and based on the benzodiazepine-like amid ligands, was patented recently. It has raised hopes for dealing with memory loss, poor decision-making, and other mental impairments. Clinical trials are expected to start within two years after the drug has proven safe and effective at preventing memory lapses.
Furthermore, researchers believe that this particular medication, part of the dementia drugs, can reverse failing memory by targeting specific cells involved in learning and memory and rejuvenating them. Thus, they suggest that this new drug, a derivative of benzodiazepine, could prevent memory loss at the beginning of Alzheimer’s and potentially delay its onset for adults aged above 55 years.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s Prevention
There are many ongoing trials regarding the prevention of dementia and Alzheimer’s. Individuals with genetic mutations attributed to the early-onset development of Alzheimer’s disease account for less than 1%, but they are the most likely to develop it.
The Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer Network (DIAN) conducted a clinical trial that tested whether antibodies to beta-amyloid can alleviate beta-amyloid plaque formation in the brains of patients with these genetic mutations and thereby decrease, delay, or prevent symptoms.
Investigating how to prevent Alzheimer’s, researchers from the Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study conducted another clinical trial—the A4 trial (Anti-Amyloid Treatment in Asymptomatic Alzheimer’s). This trial tests whether antibodies to beta-amyloid can diminish the risk of Alzheimer’s disease in people aged 65–85 who are at high risk for the disease.
Though there’s no particular method to prevent dementia, the evidence is strong that people can decrease their risk by making fundamental lifestyle changes. Keeping their brains active, getting regular physical exercise, and consuming a healthy diet may lessen the risk of developing Alzheimer’s and other kinds of dementia.
When looking at the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s, the critical thing to remember is that the two aren’t mutually exclusive. Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia. But the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia is that a patient with Alzheimer’s also has dementia, but only some people with dementia have Alzheimer’s. That’s because there are many different types and causes of dementia.
It’s also essential to consider the influence of dementia and Alzheimer’s on the patient’s family. Taking care of someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s, especially in advanced dementia or Alzheimer’s stages. Choosing the best medical alert system could make your and the person you take care of lives easier.
What are the 7 stages of dementia?
Every person with dementia experiences the disease differently. However, people tend to follow a similar trajectory from the beginning of the illness to its end. Instead of merely using mild, middle, and late-stage, the Global Deterioration Scale (GDS)/Reisberg Scale was introduced to present the brain impairment more comprehensively.
The 7 dementia stages according to the GDS are as follows:
- Stage 1 shows no cognitive decline.
- Stage 2 has very mild cognitive decline.
- Stage 3 involves mild cognitive decline.
- Stage 4 has moderate cognitive decline.
- Stage 5 involves moderately severe cognitive decline.
- Stage 6 shows severe cognitive decline, or middle dementia.
- Stage 7 has very severe cognitive decline, or late dementia.
What are the 10 warning signs of dementia?
If someone is facing memory problems, don’t instantly conclude that it’s dementia. However, if they experience two or more of the following signs, then they should see a doctor:
- difficulty with short-term memory
- trouble finding the right words
- mood changes and a shift in personality
- apathy and lost interest in hobbies or activities with friends and family
- difficulty completing regular daily tasks or following new routines
- confusion in different situations
- trouble following storylines
- a worsening sense of direction and spatial orientation
- being repetitive in activities and when asking questions
- fear of change and difficulty adapting
Why does dementia cause death?
Dementia is a progressive disorder that gets worse over time. By actively damaging the brain, dementia affects the whole body, from the heart to the lungs, and digestion. The adverse effect of dementia can reach far beyond the brain. And they can eventually cause dementia-associated death from medical complications.
When cognitive skills start to decay, the brain can’t control other organs, and they will gradually shut down. Patients with dementia are likely to die from infections and pneumonia—thus, reducing the risk of dementia by healthy eating and exercising the mind and body could help.
How long does it take to die from dementia?
The prognosis for people with dementia depends exclusively on its underlying cause. Dementia due to Parkinson’s is somehow manageable, although there isn’t currently a way to stop or even slow down related dementia. Vascular dementia can be slowed down, but it still shortens a person’s lifespan due to problems with blood vessels. Most types of dementia are irreversible and will lead to more impairment over time, eventually to death.
Alzheimer’s is a terminal illness, unfortunately. The average person with Alzheimer’s disease has an expected lifespan of about three to eight years after their diagnosis, but at the same time, some patients can live with Alzheimer’s disease for up to 20 years or more.
At what age does dementia usually start?
The risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s disease increases with age, although younger people can get it as well.
- Approximately one in 100 people will have dementia at age 60–64.
- The risk increases to about six in 100 for people aged 75–79.
- The risk further goes as high as 30 in 100 people at age 90–94.
The symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease specifically begin after the age of 60. If a person’s symptoms of dementia appear before the age of around 75 years, dementia life expectancy may include another 7–10 years after the diagnosis. However, if symptoms occur when a person is aged 90 years or older, their life expectancy is closer to 3 years.
Does dementia get worse fast?
Once it arises, dementia progresses steadily over time. Factors that can negatively impact the rate of disease progression include:
- The onset of symptoms before the age of 65 may lead to faster progress.
- A person’s genes may define the development of dementia.
- Poorly controlled heart ailments, diabetes, repeated infections, or multiple strokes are associated with fast deterioration.
Dementia support groups are a good source of knowledge, support, and motivation. In addition, many people who have recently been diagnosed with dementia or are in the early stages of the disease, find support groups necessary and effective.
Furthermore, other lifestyle changes, such as:
- being involved in mental and physical activities
- getting regular exercise
- eating healthy
- getting enough sleep
- taking all prescribed medications correctly
- quitting smoking
- having regular health checkups, and
- limiting or avoiding alcohol consumption
may help the patient maintain their abilities for longer and slow the disease’s progression.
Is Alzheimer's inherited from the mother or father?
It has been recently assessed that people who have first-degree relatives (parent, brother, or sister) with Alzheimer’s disease are four to ten times more prone to develop the disease themselves than people with no family history of Alzheimer’s. However, even though dementia may not run in the family, there’s a genetic link in some situations.
Interestingly, it was demonstrated that the chance of inheriting the disease from the mother is higher than from the father. Understanding how the disease may be inherited could lead to better prevention and treatment strategies.
Should I get tested for the Alzheimer's gene?
Genetic testing is available for Alzheimer’s disease. In some cases, a genetic examination may help. A gene known as the APOE-e4 is associated with higher chances of people over 55 years developing Alzheimer’s disease. Performing the test early could indicate the likelihood of someone with the gene developing the disease.
However, the test is controversial and the results aren’t entirely reliable. Moreover, carrying the gene doesn’t necessarily lead to developing the disease. Thus, it’s good to take the test if you have a close family member with the disease or if you’re experiencing some of the signs of Alzheimer’s disease.
How does Alzheimer's start?
As a neurocognitive disorder, Alzheimer’s disease happens when physical changes take place in the brain. The impairment of brain function follows the loss of connections between neurons.
However, recent research proposed that the Alzheimer’s disease brain lesions may already exist in midlife, although symptoms of the disease remain subtle until years later. Thus, at the time of diagnosis, the disease has already started. This is why the estimated time until death is as little as three years in people over 80 years, although it can be much longer for younger people.
In the very early stages of dementia, symptoms may be attributed to the normal process of aging. We have to mention that these symptoms aren’t a part of the normal process of growing old. For example, the first features of the disease could be slight lapses in memory, such as struggling to find the word for something or misplacing eyeglasses.
Other difficulties are related to planning, organizing, concentrating on different activities, or accomplishing tasks at work if the individual is still an employee. So, another difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s is that the first stage of dementia continues for two to four years, approximately.