Dementia And Alzheimer’s – Understanding The Difference

Tuesday, June 21, 2011
By Mr. Noah Kaminer, Administrator

As we become older, most of us will have some problem with our memory. Some may forget where we left our car keys; others may have trouble remembering the name of someone we just met. Everyone, regardless of age, has at some point experienced what has colloquially become known as a “senior moment.”

But when does this forgetfulness become something more? When do the terms “dementia” and “Alzheimer’s Disease” become relevant? The next series of articles will explore dementia, Alzheimer’s and the impact it can have on everyone in the Senior Circle.

Dementia and Alzheimer’s are perhaps two of the most confused diseases affecting the senior population. While they are often used interchangeably and there are a lot of similarities between the two, there are also a lot of differences. To fully understand the distinctions, let’s first discuss dementia.


Dementia is a broad medical term used to describe the gradual loss of intellectual function.  Found mainly in seniors over the age of 70, dementia is a group of symptoms that indicate the thinking processes are deteriorating.  These symptoms include: short-term memory loss, poor judgment, difficulty performing familiar tasks such as dressing or making phone calls, increased language difficulties, decreased motor skills, failure to recognized or identify objects, and difficulty making plans.  Often a person acts out of character — such as when your normally aidel mother becomes agitated or even aggressive.  When a person develops these symptoms, it’s a sign that something is wrong.  Since early detection of dementia can make a world of difference, a physician should be consulted to determine the cause.

Dementia can be caused by different things.  One primary cause of dementia is vascular dementia, which results when strokes or mini strokes impair blood flow to the brain.   In many cases, the strokes are so small that you may not notice any symptoms. But over time, the damage adds up, leading to memory loss, confusion, and other signs of dementia.  While there’s no known cure for vascular dementia, prevention is important. This means getting high blood pressure under control, and controlling cholesterol levels and diabetes. By treating the risk factors that lead to vascular dementia, you may be able to slow the progression of the disease and possibly reverse some of the symptoms.  Another cause of dementia is conditions associated with Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease or Pick’s disease. Undoubtedly, however, the most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s.


Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia characterized by the gradual loss of important mental functions. It goes far beyond normal forgetfulness, such as losing your car keys or forgetting where you parked. It affects the parts of the brain that control thought, memory and language, and can begin much earlier than regular dementia – early onset Alzheimer’s can begin as early as 50.

The first sign of the disease is mild forgetfulness which is easily confused with age-related memory loss so it usually takes more time to make a positive diagnosis.   As the disease progresses, symptoms become more severe, more noticeable and are serious enough to cause concern for family members. The symptoms begin to interfere with the person’s ability to perform daily activities. They may start forgetting how to do common tasks, fail to recognize familiar people and places, or have problems speaking, understanding, or even remembering to eat.  Eventually they will need total care.

Whether an individual’s dementia is caused by Alzheimer’s or another condition, it’s important to seek help and receive a proper diagnosis. Some forms of dementia can be treated and while there’s no cure for Alzheimer’s, certain medications can slow down the progression of the disease.   Either way, it is important to get a diagnosis so the patient and his or her family can understand what is causing these mental changes, and put a plan in place to deal with them in the future.