Dementia v. Alzheimer’s: 3 Key Differences

Aren’t dementia and Alzheimer’s the same thing? Not exactly.

Dementia is a brain disorder that affects communication and performance of daily activities. It’s caused by damage to brain cells. Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia that specifically affects parts of the brain that control thought, memory, and language.

Dementia is the symptom; Alzheimer’s is the cause. However, dementia can have several other causes, and each comes with its own set of symptoms and treatments. Here are three key differences between dementia and Alzheimer’s.

1. Diagnosis Being diagnosed with dementia is being diagnosed with a set of symptoms, not the cause of those symptoms. At least two of the following symptoms must be significantly impaired in order for a diagnosis of dementia to be given:

• memory
• communication and language
• ability to focus and pay attention
• reeasoning and judgement
• visual perception

In addition to these, a full physical history is gathered, physical and neurological exams are performed, and additional tests are taken in order to determine the actual cause of the dementia, such as Alzheimer’s.

2. Cause Alzheimer’s can cause dementia and may cause between 60 and 80% of all cases, per the Alzheimer’s Association. But dementia may also be caused by several other types of brain degeneration or other conditions.

The second most common type of dementia is vascular dementia, which occurs after a stroke. This occurs because the brain is not getting enough blood due to damage to blood vessels or blockages, causing mini-strokes or brain bleeding.

Dementia with Lewy bodies is the third-most widespread form of dementia. It is caused by a build up of abnormal clumps of a protein called alpha-synuclin—or Lewy bodies—in the brain’s cortex. Lewy body dementia comes in two forms: Parkinson’s
Disease and dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB).

Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD) is the loss of nerve cells in the front and side areas of the brain (behind the forehead and ears). This type of dementia has subtypes including behavioral variant FTD (bvFTD), primary progressive aphasia, Pick’s disease,
corticobasal degeneration, and progressive supranuclear palsy.

Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) is a rare form of dementia due to brain cell damage that occurs when a protein, called a prion, folds into an abnormal shape and other prions start to do the same. One type of CJD, called variant CJD, is also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease.

Huntington’s Disease is an inherited disease that causes the progressive breakdown of nerve cells in the brain. According to the Huntington’s Disease Society of America, it is often described as having ALS, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s at the same time. Normal pressure hydrocephalus is an abnormal buildup of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain.

Dementia may also be cause by:

• drug interactions
• vitamin deficiencies
• thyroid, kidney, or liver problems
• head injury
• depression
• drinking too much alcohol
• blood clots or tumors in the brain

3. Treatment The treatment for dementia depends upon its cause. Some causes, like thyroid problems, vitamin deficiencies, and drug interactions, when diagnosed properly, can be corrected, leading to the reversal of dementia symptoms. However, in the case of more progressive dementias like Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s, there is no cure or treatment that slows or stops its progression, only treatments that may improve the symptoms.

Ultimately, increased research funding and participation in clinical studies is the best way to discover new treatments for dementia and its causes, such as Alzheimer’s.

Meridien Research has studies for both dementia and Alzheimer’s that are enrolling now at several of our clinics. For more information or to see if you or someone you know may qualify to participate, please contact us today at 1-888-777-8839 or visit
our individual study pages.