What is The Difference Between Alzheimer’s and Dementia?

by | Sep 2, 2018 | Alzheimer's Disease, Dementia, Dementia Behaviors


This is probably the number one question people often have. For years everyone talked about Alzheimer’s Disease and now it seems the focus has shifted to Dementia. So, what is the difference?

Aromatherapy and Dementia

The fact is dementia isn’t a specific disease. Rather it is a collection of symptoms affecting memory, thinking and social abilities severely enough to interfere with daily functioning. And Alzheimer’s Disease is the leading cause of dementia. Furthermore, there are many different diseases that also create dementia symptoms.

Dementia is the Umbrella Term

Dementia Umbrella

And the diseases that cause these dementia symptoms are under the umbrella. Just as there are many different types of cancer, there are also many types of dementia. And just like cancer, each type can present a different set of symptoms. Let’s take a look at the 4 most common types.

Alzheimer’s Disease.

This is the most common type of dementia.  Alzheimer’s is often associated with memory loss. When your parent can no longer remember who you are Alzheimer’s disease is often the culprit.  However, there are a number of other symptoms that may be common.

Some of the first symptoms are sometimes overlooked until it becomes a big problem.

One of these symptoms is the inability to follow a plan or work with numbers. This can mean that mom no longer is able to cook for herself or to plan meals. She may not be able to handle her finances and may let bills go unpaid.

Finances are a Private Affair

In many families, finances are not discussed. It is taboo. And children are expected to respect their parent’s privacy regarding finances. This is where many people run into problems.

“Mom has not paid her taxes in years. Her property tax was so far past due that a lean was put on her property. On top of that we found out that she took out a reverse mortgage. The money was used to finance her trips to Europe and lavish lifestyle. We though Dad must have left her a huge nest egg. We should have questioned her more. Now the money is all gone and we have lost the property that has been in the family for hundreds of years. And to make matters worse we have to but mom on Medicaid and place her in a Medicaid nursing home. It wasn’t supposed to be like this!” ~Danny

Getting Lost

Someone with Alzheimer’s Disease may very well end up on a “Silver Alert” billboard.  Confusing and getting lost are two very common signs of this disease. People with Alzheimer’s often like to wander. If not in a secure environment they could very well wander into trouble.

Vascular Dementia.

Vascular Dementia is thought to be the second most common form of dementia. Strokes are often to blame.  Even smaller strokes, TIA’s (transient ischemic attack) can cause vascular dementia. High blood pressure is also a factor in this disease.  And the bad news is it can sneak up on you.

These smaller mini-strokes may happen over time. Because the symptoms often only last a short time, patients may not see their doctor. But the damage may already be done. And if you have had one TIA there is a strong chance you will have another.

Vascular dementia often presents with symptoms of confusion, difficulty with speech and remembering words. There may be some mild memory loss in the beginning. But the cognitive function is the hallmark of this disease. Being able to make quick and rational decisions are affected by Vascular dementia.

Lewy Body Dementia (or Dementia with Lewy Bodies).

Lewy Body Dementia is another very common, yet frequently misdiagnosed, or undiagnosed type of dementia.  Common Lewy body symptoms may present very differently than someone with Alzheimer’s disease. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, this type of dementia is the 3rd most common type affecting dementia patients.

Delusions and hallucinations are more common in dementia with Lewy bodies. Wild vivid dreams and acting out these dreams are a classic sign of Lewy Body Dementia. These symptoms are not usually found in someone with Alzheimer’s disease. Furthermore, memory loss is not as prominent as found in Alzheimer’s Disease.

Lewy Body Dementia came to the forefront of the attention of the American public in August of 2014. Beloved TV star and comedian, Robin Williams, took his own life. The country and the world were shocked. WHY?

It was discovered that he had been recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease But further tests revealed that he was suffering from Lewy Body Dementia. It is a disease that has a high probability of suicide. Most likely due to the hallucinations, delusions and vivid dreams. The vast majority of people had never even heard of this disease.


Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD)- Previously Known as Picks Disease

Arnold Pick, M.D., a physician who in 1892 first described a patient with distinct symptoms affecting language. Thus, it was referred to as Picks disease. It is now more commonly referred to as FTD (Frontotemporal Disease). In FTD, the nerve cell loss is most prominent in areas that control conduct, judgment, empathy, and foresight, among other abilities.

This is a challenging disease for families.  There may be prominent changes in personality, interpersonal relationships, and conduct that often occur in people in their 50s and 60s. FTD has even been discovered in people in their 20’s or 80’s.

Families Are Confused with The Changes

Alzheimer's and Dementia

Furthermore, it is not uncommon for a family to become split with loyalties between parents. Suddenly dad becomes verbally or maybe even physically abusive to mom for no apparent reason. The children love both parents but cannot understand what has suddenly happened.  Likewise, couples who have been together a long time may get a divorce late in life. They do not fully understand what is happening to their spouse.

Another Symptom of FTD

Primary progressive aphasia (PPA) affects language skills, speaking, writing, and comprehension. It usually presents in midlife before age 65. Speech becomes difficult to understand. Sentences may be strung together making no logical sense. The person with FTD had trouble understanding speech as well as speaking coherently. This can also make dealing with this type of dementia a huge challenge.

Affecting the Muscles

Someone with FTD may also have disturbances of motor (movement or muscle) function. In fact, there are 3 diseases that are commonly seen in a patient with FTD.

  1. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), which causes muscle weakness or wasting.
  2. Corticobasal syndrome, which causes arms and legs to become uncoordinated or stiff.
  3. Progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP), which causes muscle stiffness, difficulty walking and changes in posture.

Knowing which type of dementia someone has can be helpful. A medication that may help someone with one type could cause problems with a different type of dementia. Furthermore, this can help families choose the best care facility based on the symptoms that their loved one is experiencing.




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