What’s the Difference Between Alzheimer’s and Dementia?

Knowing the difference between Dementia and Alzheimer’s and what symptoms to look for could help you or your loved one get the correct diagnosis earlier, and receive the correct treatment promptly.

For most Americans, Dementia and Alzheimer’s seem to be interchangeable medical terms. Some symptoms, including memory loss and confusion, can occur in both Alzheimer’s as well as other dementia diseases.

A dementia disease diagnosis, such as Alzheimer’s, can be hard on a patient and their family. The stress of navigating the best treatments and finding the right memory care facility can add to the stress.

Understanding the diagnosis, as well as treatment options, and knowing a loved one is in a safe environment, can help bring some understanding and peace to both the patient and their family. So what is the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia and how can we help our loved ones live a safe and fulfilled life after a diagnosis?

Table of Contents

What is Dementia?

The Mayo Clinic defines dementia as a term used to describe a group of symptoms affecting memory, thinking, and social abilities in a way that it interferes with the patient’s daily life. Dementia is not a normal part of aging but is caused by damaged brain cells.

Memory loss alone does not mean that you or your loved one have dementia but can be an early sign and an indication.

Signs of Dementia

There are several disorders, including Alzheimer’s, that fall under the dementia category and cause impaired reasoning, memory loss, and personality changes. Before a diagnosis, a doctor must conclude that the patient has two or more cognitive or behavioral areas in decline. These include:

  • Disorientation
  • Disorganization
  • Language impairment
  • Mood change
  • Personality change
  • Memory loss

What is Alzheimer’s?

Alzheimers.gov defines Alzheimer’s like a brain disorder that over time destroys memory and thinking skills, and eventually the ability to carry out simple, everyday tasks. These declines in function can not be reversed.

According to Mayo Clinic’s research, approximately 58 million people in the US over 65 years of age live with Alzheimer’s disease. Although early-onset is possible, the cases of someone being diagnosed under 65 years of age are rare.

Signs of Alzheimer’s

The signs of Alzheimer’s can be similar to other dementia disorders and include:

  • Memory loss
  • Confusion with time or place
  • Trouble speaking or writing
  • Change in mood and personality
  • The trouble with everyday tasks
  • Issues swallowing
  • Difficulty walking

Which is Worse, Dementia or Alzheimer’s?

couple holding hands

Mainly, dementia is a general term that covers many diseases. Alzheimer’s is one of those specific brain diseases. It is accompanied by symptoms of dementia that gradually get worse over time.

Simply put, Alzheimer’s falls under the umbrella of disorders that the term dementia is used to describe. So in reality, unless diagnosed with a reversible condition, there is no “worse” diagnosis, just different diseases that may be treated differently.

Schedule A Tour

Stages of Dementia

Depending on the disorder or disease, dementia stages can vary greatly. The most common kinds of dementia tend to be progressive, such as Alzheimer’s and Lewy body dementias. However, disorders linked to dementia, such as Huntington’s and Parkinson’s, are reversible.

The following list of reversible conditions is not exhaustive, but can include:

  • Infection and fever
  • Endocrine abnormalities
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Medical side effects
  • Subdural hematomas

Alzheimer’s Stages

There are three stages of Alzheimer’s disease: early, middle, and late stages.

  • Early-Stage symptoms include memory loss and other cognitive difficulties. The patient and their family may notice these symptoms appearing gradually. It is at this point that a diagnosis is made, and certain types of treatment begin.
  • Middle-Stage is when damage begins in the areas of the brain that control language and reasoning. This phase is often when confusion is amplified, and they may begin having trouble recognizing family and friends.
  • Late-Stage symptoms include the inability to communicate or take care of themselves properly. This stage is when the patient is often bedridden and becomes completely dependent on others for their care.

What Are The Different Diagnosis For Dementia And Alzheimers’

dr. running dementia tests on patient

Diagnosis for any kind of dementia can be a long process because of the many diseases, disorders, and conditions that can cause these symptoms. According to the Mayo Clinic, if dementia is suspected, the doctor will review your medical history and look for any patterns about the loss of skill and function.

Because no test can diagnose dementia by itself, the doctor will likely run multiple tests that will help them narrow down the problem. These tests include:

  • Cognitive tests
  • Neurological evaluation
  • Brain scans such as MRI or CT
  • Lab tests
  • Psychiatric evaluation

Forms of Treatment

There are ways to manage the symptoms of dementia despite the inability to cure most types of dementia. On top of considering at-home and memory care facility options, your doctor may recommend medications, therapies, or both.

Medications are available that can temporarily improve symptoms. Cholinesterase inhibitors boost the levels of a chemical messenger that helps control memory and judgment. Memantine is a medication often prescribed that regulates chemicals involving brain functions such as learning. Other medications may also be prescribed to treat symptoms of conditions like depression, hallucination, or agitation.

Therapies are non-drug approaches that often include initial treatment of dementia to help with symptoms and behavioral problems. One option is occupational therapy, which works to teach the patient how to make sure their home is a safe environment as well as teach them coping skills. As a patient’s dementia progresses, this step is important for preventing accidents.

Other modification therapies may be reducing noise to help the patient focus on tasks and implementing a monitoring system. Monitoring systems can bring peace of mind to both the patient and the family in the later stages of dementia.

How to Find Memory Care

friends at memory care facility


Now that you know the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s, you can better plan for your loved ones’ futures.

Dementia, regardless of the disorder or disease, can be difficult to navigate both from the personal perspective as well as the family perspective. It is important to note that the best approach to dementia while seeking a diagnosis is engagement and proper, loving care.

Having a team that is there for both the patient and the family, to guide them through these changes and ensure safety and quality of life is the most important task when searching for memory care services.

It is important to meet with doctors, nurses, and other faculty to ensure that your goals align with theirs and to build the trust that is necessary when extensive care is needed.

If you are Googling “dementia care facilities near me”, especially in or around Valley Park in St. Louis, look into Cape Albeon’s New Cove Memory Care Household.

We strive to maintain a sense of independence for our residents while providing a caring and secure community. We understand the importance of family involvement and encourage the family’s input in helping to create a plan of care.

Schedule A Tour

In addition to basic assisted living services, we also provide:

  • An individualized care plan with family updates
  • Fine dining with assistance in a dedicated dining room
  • Small groups for focused interaction and support
  • Daily health and fitness activities
  • And so much more!

Visit our website for more memory care services including our Alzheimer’s care as well as “dementia-specific” programs that promote engagement and wellbeing.

We are a well-established community with long-lasting familiar employees. We aim to offer residents and their families a beacon of hope in what can be the most trying time of their lives.

To see if we are a good fit for you, schedule an on-site tour. We would love to show you all that Cape Albeon has to offer.

Schedule A Tour