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Dementia vs Alzheimer’s: What Are the Differences?

Although these two common terms are often identified as the same, there are many key differences between the two.

There are many alarming statistics when it comes to this growing disease. In the United States, Alzheimer’s and Dementia deaths have increased by 16% since the Covid-19 pandemic. Furthermore, one in three seniors passes with Alzheimer’s or Dementia. It affects more people than breast and prostate cancer combined. Deaths from heart disease have increased 7 percent in the last 20 years, while Dementia and Alzheimer’s have increased by 145% in that same period.

It is worth noting that dementia and Alzheimer’s are becoming an even larger healthcare issue in the U.S. and globally. This post addresses the main differences between Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease along with some treatments, symptoms to know, risk factors, and more.

Difference between Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease

These two diseases share some similar qualities, but they are very different. Dementia is an umbrella term for mental decline, while Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of Dementia. Dementia has many factors including what causes it, the types, and more. Both diseases can be brought on by a combination of lifestyle factors, genetics, and even environmental concerns. Read below to find out the key differences, symptoms, and treatment variability used for Dementia and Alzheimer’s.

What is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s disease affects the part of the brain that involves memory, behavior, and thinking in general. It is one of the most common chronic diseases in the United States. Alzheimer’s disease makes up 60 to 80% of all Dementia cases (1).

It is currently the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S. It is a neurodegenerative disease that globally affects more than 40 million people (2, 3). It is the most common form of dementia as well.

Scientists believe there is a build-up in the brain cells, affecting the brain proteins’ ability to communicate with each other. Toxic changes occur in the brain even up to a decade before Alzheimer’s disease becomes recognizable (4).

Americans living with Alzheimer’s are growing and fast. One in nine people over 65 years old has Alzheimer’s disease today. Women are affected even more with nearly two-thirds of American women affected. By 2050, Americans are expected to see an increase of around 12.7 million people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease

There are many symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and the initial symptoms typically vary on a case-by-case basis, then they can become more generalized as it progresses.

Common symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease include:

  • Memory problems as the first sign
  • Sometimes Mild Cognitive Impairment that does not necessarily interfere with everyday life (5)
  • Difficulty moving
  • A loss of smell (6, 7)
  • Difficulty speaking or saying certain words
  • Vision problems (8)
  • Weakened judgment

Alzheimer’s disease can range from mild, moderate, and severe cases. It mainly affects older populations, but early-onset Alzheimer’s can also occur as early as 30 or 40 years old.

 

What is Dementia?

Dementia is an overall term for the brain disorder that affects memory and cognition. It is not a single disease. It is possible to have dementia from a range of diseases and even from multiple diseases such as Vascular, Parkinson’s, Lewy body, and Huntington’s disease (9).

Although Dementia can affect those as young as 30 years old, it is extremely rare, unlike Alzheimer’s disease. Those with Dementia experience two types of brain dysfunction, such as memory loss and impaired judgment, or the symptoms listed below. Many people with Dementia experience limited social skills and have a hard time performing everyday activities.

Some causes of Dementia are reversible, but treatments are available.

Symptoms of Dementia

There is a wide range of symptoms that can develop with Dementia, as it has many causes and determinants.

Some symptoms can include but are not limited to:

  • Not keeping up with paying bills or remembering appointments
  • Short-term memory issues
  • Trouble keeping track of everyday items like a wallet
  • Difficulty preparing meals
  • Venturing outside of your typical whereabouts

The reason it may seem like these two disorders are the same is because Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia, and it is rapidly increasing in the United States.

Risk Factors for Alzheimer’s and Dementia

While these two have their differences, many of the risk factors are similar for both brain disorders. Causes and risk factors for both these diseases can range tremendously depending on the person and their genetic risks.

Common risk factors can include:

  • Age
  • Heart diseases such as atherosclerosis (10, 11, 12)
  • Family history and genetics play a large role (13)
  • Excess alcohol use
  • Smoking
  • High cholesterol
  • Mild cognitive impairment
  • Type 2 Diabetes

Diabetes is one of the most common ways to develop a neurocognitive disorder like Dementia. Earlier onset type 2 diabetes may even increase the chances of getting Dementia at a younger age, around 60-70 years old. A few studies show that those who were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes were 24 times more likely to develop dementia than those without type 2 diabetes at age 70 (14).

Alzheimer’s and Dementia produce a burden on America’s healthcare system with a projected annual cost of 355 billion dollars by 2050. And, those costs can get as high as the trillions. Dementia and Alzheimer’s are not going anywhere and the more awareness built, the better.

Conclusion

Dementia and Alzheimer’s have key differences in that Dementia is a broad term for cognitive decline associated with memory loss, judgment control, and more.

Dementia, especially Alzheimer’s is on the rise globally and especially in the United States. If you suspect you have some of these symptoms, reach out to a professional.

If you know someone who may be experiencing early onset Dementia, be sure to research help with a medical professional in your area. It is never too early to start acting on what you can do to prevent these common and life-threatening degenerative disorders.