We are all forgetful at times – even more so as we age. That’s part of being human. However, frequent memory loss that interferes with daily life and increases the risk of harm can be a sign of Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia.
As a company that offers a variety of memory care services for seniors, our residents and their loved ones often wonder, “What’s the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s disease?” The line can be blurry, so let’s clarify some of the key differences between these two terms below.
What is dementia?
Dementia is an umbrella term for the loss of cognitive functions like memory, language skills, and visual perception, caused by damaged nerve cells in the brain. Memory loss can occur as a side effect of medication, stress, substance abuse, or head injury, but to be considered dementia, symptoms are typically chronic and worsen over time.
Although seniors are more likely to develop dementia, it is not a normal part of getting older, and there is currently no cure. However, people with dementia can have good quality of life through various medications and treatments available today – especially if it is detected early.
What is Alzheimer’s disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, accounting 60-80 percent of cases and affecting more than 5 million people and their loved ones in the United States. To fully understand the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s, it might help to think of it this way: everyone with Alzheimer’s disease has dementia, but not everyone with dementia has Alzheimer’s disease.
Other types of dementia include vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, among many others. Each of these diseases has its own specific symptoms, despite a lot of overlap.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the key symptom that differentiates Alzheimer’s disease from other dementia is the inability to retain new information, because it directly affects the part of the brain that controls learning. Forgetting names or appointments but remembering them later is a typical age-related change, but Alzheimer’s disease causes progressive memory loss that disrupts daily life.
Other symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease include:
– Impaired judgment
– Behavioral changes
– Difficulty speaking or swallowing
How is dementia diagnosed?
Doctors use various methods like memory tests and biomarkers to determine if a person has Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia, although they can only diagnose Alzheimer’s disease with certainty by performing an autopsy after a patient has passed away. However, due to ongoing research on the disease, most physicians can diagnose Alzheimer’s disease with over 90 percent accuracy.
Why does the distinction between dementia and Alzheimer’s matter?
Learning the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and using the terms correctly, empowers individuals battling these diseases. It also equips their families with the necessary knowledge to support their loved ones and find solutions to ensure good quality of life.
If you or a family member are noticing symptoms of dementia and want to learn more about risk factors, diagnosis, or our memory care services, contact our team at Edgewood Healthcare today.