What is the Difference Between Alzheimer’s and Dementia?
When individuals begin noticing their loved ones becoming forgetful, they may begin worrying that they’re suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia. However, the two conditions aren’t the same. Alzheimer’s is a specific disease, whereas dementia is the term used to describe a decline in mental ability that is so severe it starts interfering with day-to-day life. Alzheimer’s is a common cause of dementia.
Getting an understanding of the two terms and the difference between dementia and Alzheimers can be an important way to empower those living with Alzheimer’s or a different type of dementia, their caregivers, and their families with essential knowledge.
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is a degenerative brain condition that’s caused by complex changes in the brain following cell damage. Alzheimer’s leads to symptoms of dementia that become worse over time. One of the most common early symptoms of Alzheimer’s is difficulty remembering new information since the condition generally first affects the section of the brain that’s associated with learning.
- Behavior changes
Eventually, swallowing, speaking, and walking becomes difficult.
While increasing age is the widely known risk factor for the disease, Alzheimer’s isn’t a normal part of the aging process.1 Also, while most individuals struggling with the disease are 65 and older, around 200,000 individuals in the U.S. under 65 currently live with younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease. 2
It’s predicted that by the year 2060, the number of Alzheimer’s cases will increase to approximately 14 million individuals, with the most affected being the minority populations.2 Health conditions like diabetes and heart disease may contribute to this number since they’re more common in the African American and Hispanic populations.
Causes of Alzheimer’s
Researchers believe the disease causes brain damage in a couple of ways. These are:
In healthy individuals, a protein known as tau assists in nerve cell stabilization. But, in individuals with Alzheimer’s, this protein forms tangles, which eventually cause the death of neurons.
Beta-amyloid (a protein) builds up slowly forming plaques. These plaques then interrupt nerve signals and sometimes trigger inflammation.
More is being studied on how the disease damages the brain.
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s
Many individuals link Alzheimer’s with serious symptoms, such as the inability to remember or speak names. But, the disease starts with small symptoms like forgetting appointments and slowly progresses to more severe symptoms over the years.
Early Alzheimer’s symptoms are frequently subtle and may include:
- Confusion with time and place
- Memory loss that disrupts daily life
- Misplacing things
- Difficulty completing tasks
- Trouble with problem-solving
- Becoming withdrawn
- Trouble recalling names or words
- Changes to judgment
- Changes in personality
- Vision issues that affect driving ability or balance
Advances in diagnostic testing, which includes MRIs and brain scans, have led to more individuals receiving diagnoses during the early stage of Alzheimer’s.
This disease also presents certain risk factors. Certain populations have a greater risk for the disease such as older individuals, Hispanic individuals, and African American individuals. Individuals with a family history are also at higher risk. The genetic connection is especially strong when it comes to early-onset Alzheimer’s, and the symptoms start appearing before the mid-60s.
What is Dementia?
Dementia is a group of symptoms linked with a reduction in reasoning, memory, or other thinking skills. There are various types of dementia and various conditions that lead to it. Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia and accounts for around 60% to 80% of all dementia cases. 3
Dementia is also not a normal part of the aging process. It’s caused by brain cell damage that impacts the cells’ ability to communicate, which in turn impacts behavior, thinking, and feelings.
Causes of Dementia
There are numerous causes of dementia. While the most common cause is Alzheimer’s, other types of dementia do occur with various causes, including
This type of dementia is associated with stroke and other disorders that impact blood flow to the brain. Individuals may experience symptoms suddenly after mini-strokes or strokes, instead of the slow progression linked with Alzheimer’s disease.
This form of dementia leads to changes in behavior and personality. The cause is not clear.
This form of dementia is marked by changes to balance and movement. Individuals with this type of dementia may experience strange sleep-wake schedules and visual hallucinations.
While doctors can usually determine if an individual has dementia, it may be hard to determine the exact cause.
One important thing to note, in some cases, similar dementia symptoms can be caused by a mental health condition, like depression, called pseudodementia. Individuals need to undergo brain imaging and diagnostic tests to rule out reversible pseudodementia causes like sleep troubles or medication side effects.
Symptoms of Dementia
Dementia symptoms can vary greatly depending on what the cause is. But, there are common symptoms, which include:
- Troubles keeping attention
- Issues with memory, including forgetting old or new memories
- Problems with judgment, reasoning, and problem solving
- Difficulty with motor function and coordination
- Significant vision changes
- Psychological symptoms, including paranoia and hallucinations
Certain individuals are at greater risk for dementia. Some risk factors for dementia are age, race, and family history. Along with these risk factors, there are certain health problems associated with dementia, including smoking, high blood pressure, Parkinson’s disease, high cholesterol, and traumatic brain injury.
What are the Stages of Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s generally progresses in three stages gradually. These are known as early (mild), middle (moderate), and late (severe). Since the effects of Alzheimer’s are different in individuals in different ways, each individual may experience symptoms of dementia or progress through the disease’s stages differently.
It’s important to note that it may be challenging to place an individual with Alzheimer’s in a certain stage of the disease since the stages can overlap. The three categories of the Alzheimer’s disease stages include:
1. Early-stage Alzheimer’s (mild)
An individual might function independently in the early Alzheimer’s stage. They may still work, drive, and participate in social activities. Even so, the individual may feel like they’re experiencing memory lapses, such as being forgetful of the location of everyday objects or familiar words.
At this stage, symptoms of dementia might not be widely noticeable, but close friends and members of the family might take notice and a healthcare professional can use specific diagnostic tools to identify different symptoms.
Common difficulties in this stage may include:
- Remembering names with the introduction of new people
- Coming up with the right name or word
- Forgetting material they just read
- Having trouble performing tasks in work or social settings
- Experiencing increased difficulties with organizing or planning
- Misplacing or losing a valuable object
In the early stage of Alzheimer’s, individuals with the disease can live well by taking control of their wellness and health and placing emphasis on aspects of their life that mean the most to them. Also, this is a good time for them to put financial, legal, and end-of-life plans in place since they’re still able to participate in decision-making processes.
2. Middle-stage Alzheimer’s (moderate)
This stage of Alzheimer’s is generally the longest stage of the disease and may last for many years. With the progression of the disease, the individual with Alzheimer’s will start needing a greater level of care.
The symptoms of dementia are more pronounced during the middle stage of Alzheimer’s. The individual might get angry or frustrated, confuse their words, and act in unexpected ways (i.e. refuse to bathe). Nerve cell damage in the brain can also make it hard for the individual to perform routine tasks and express thoughts without help.
Symptoms, which can vary from one person to the next, may include:
- Feeling withdrawn or moody, particularly in mentally or socially challenging situations
- Forgetting personal history or events
- Experiencing confusion about what day it is where they are
- Not being able to recall information about themselves like their phone number or address, or what school they attended
- Having difficulty controlling their bowels and bladder
- Requiring assistance choosing the right clothing for the occasion or the season
- Showing an increased tendency to become lost and wander
- Experiencing sleep pattern changes, such as becoming restless at night and sleeping during the day
- Demonstrating behavioral and personality changes, including delusions and suspiciousness or compulsive repetitive behavior such as tissue shredding or hand-wringing.
In the middle stage of Alzheimer’s, the individual can still engage in day-to-day activities with help. It’s essential to determine what the individual can still do and come up with ways to make their tasks easier. As the individual requires more intensive care, caregivers might want to think about an adult day center or respite care so they can take a short break from their caregiving duties while the individual with Alzheimer’s continues receiving care in a safe atmosphere.
3. Late-stage Alzheimer’s (severe)
During the disease’s final stage, symptoms of dementia are severe. Those suffering from the disease lose their ability to:
- Carry on a conversation
- Respond to their environment
- Control movement
Individuals may continue to say phrases or words, but it becomes harder for them to communicate pain. As an individual’s cognitive skills and memory continue deteriorating, substantial changes in personality may take place and they require extensive care.
When they’re at this stay, individuals may:
- Lose awareness of their surroundings or recent experiences
- Require 24/7 assistance with their day-to-day personal care
- Have trouble communicating
- Experience alterations in their physical ability, including sitting, walking, and eventually, swallowing
- Become susceptible to infections, particularly pneumonia
Individuals living with Alzheimer’s might not have the ability during the late stage to initiate engagement, but interaction can still benefit them in appropriate ways, such as receiving reassurance through a gentle touch or listening to relaxing music. During this stage of Alzheimer’s caregivers may wish to use support services like hospice care, which focuses on offering dignity and comfort at the end of life. These services can greatly benefit individuals in their final Alzheimer’s stages as well as their families.
Differences between Dementia vs Alzheimer’s
So, what is the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia? There are some key differences between the two.
Alzheimer’s is a condition that creates a group of symptoms that typically progresses to a “dementia” stage.
On the other hand, dementia is an umbrella term used to describe thinking and memory issues severe enough to disrupt day-to-day living.
The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. 4 However, other brain conditions and injuries like Parkinson’s disease and stroke can cause dementia as well. Treatment options can vary depending on the cause of dementia.
Both dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are different from normal age-related or short-term memory loss. While Alzheimer’s and dementia can have similar effects on an individual’s life, there are some essential differences between the two.
Alzheimer vs Dementia — Important Differences
Some essential differences between Alzheimer’s and dementia include:
With dementia, the individual’s state of brain function is at a point where the person can’t function independently or fully care for themselves and they require assistance. Dementia can be caused by other brain injuries or diseases or it can be caused by Alzheimer’s itself. It’s marked by symptoms such as difficulty with cognition and memory loss and the symptoms can present themselves slowly or suddenly. The treatment plan for dementia will depend on what the root cause is.
This is a specific disease that ultimately leads to dementia. There are limited options for treatment, but more are being developed. Alzheimer’s progresses gradually and ultimately ends up in the death of the individual struggling with it.
Both dementia and Alzheimer’s disease have no cure. They greatly impact the patients and their family members and caregivers. While some treatment options can help ease the patient’s symptoms, they are limited.
Treatments for Dementia and Alzheimers
As mentioned, treatments are designed to help with the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia. They’re not meant to be cures. Treatment is constantly being developed. While memory decline is normal with age, the effect of dementia and Alzheimer’s aren’t supposed to be part of a person’s healthy aging process, so those who are concerned should consult with their healthcare providers.
Dementia treatment will depend on its cause. Healthcare providers focus treatments on symptom management and keeping dementia from becoming worse. Some treatments for Alzheimer’s and dementia overlap.
With Alzheimer’s disease and most progressive dementias, there are two treatments — lecanemab (Leqembi™) and aducanumab (Aduhelm™) — that show that removing beta-amyloid, one of Alzheimer’s disease’s hallmarks, from the brain decreases functional and cognitive decline in individuals living with early Alzheimer’s.
Other treatments can temporarily slow down symptoms of dementia from becoming worse and improve the quality of life in individuals living with Alzheimer’s. The same medications doctors prescribe to treat Alzheimer’s disease are also prescribed to help with symptoms of other forms of dementia. Some dementia symptoms can also be improved with non-drug therapies.
Increased participation in clinical studies and research funding is the ultimate path to new effective dementia treatments.
TMS for Dementia and Alzheimers
TMS, which stands for Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, is very effective in minimizing and stopping the symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. TMS is a newer therapy for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease. It employs a magnet to switch on a section of an individual’s brain. TMS is typically performed five times a week in daily sessions, therefore, it’s referred to as rTMS or “repetitive” TMS.
The rTMS sessions occur over four to six weeks and are noninvasive, which means surgery isn’t required). They can be performed right at the clinic or doctor’s office without anesthesia.
The doctor places an electromagnetic coil on the individual’s head and switches it on and off repeatedly to produce pulses. Each pulse lasts a few seconds and makes a clicking sound. It feels like “tapping” on the individual’s forehead.
The exact way that TMS works in individuals with Alzheimer’s isn’t well understood. But, researchers believe it produces brain stimulation that can slow down or speed up brain activity in ways that help improve cognitive issues.
How potentially effective TMS is will depend on which type of stimulation is provided and how. For instance, the doctor can provide either high-frequency or low-frequency. It can be performed in a regular rhythm or in a more “patterned” rhythm that can imitate certain types of activity in the brain.
There are several benefits of TMS for Alzheimer’s and dementia, including:
- It’s non-invasive: It’s an entirely external treatment to the body
- High success rate: It’s very effective in decreasing symptoms of Alzheimer’s and dementia
- Little to no side effects: Most patients don’t experience side effects of TMS
- Non-sedative: It’s relatively painless and requires no sedation
Another study in 2021 was conducted on cognitively deficient mice. This study showed that high-frequency TMS helped to increase the lymphatic system’s drainage efficiency of the brain, and prevent long-term memory loss decline. 6
At Brain Therapy TMS in San Diego, new evidence-based and progressive treatment approaches and resources are being employed constantly, including TMS Therapy for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Our treatment approaches, including TMS, provide our patients with the greatest degree of healing. Schedule your free consultation with Brain Therapy TMS today.
References & Resources
- National Institute on Aging. What Causes Alzheimer’s Disease. Retrieved on 2/4/2023 from: https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/what-causes-alzheimers-disease
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Minorities and Women Are at Greater Risk for Alzheimer’s Disease. Retrieved on 2/4/2023 from: https://www.cdc.gov/aging/publications/features/Alz-Greater-Risk.html
- Alzheimer’s Association. Dementia vs. Alzheimer’s Disease: What is the Difference? Retrieved on 2/4/2023 from: https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/difference-between-dementia-and-alzheimer-s
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias. Retrieved on 2/4/2023 from: https://www.cdc.gov/aging/aginginfo/alzheimers.htm
- National Library of Medicine. Precision Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Over the Left Parietal Cortex Improves Memory in Alzheimer’s Disease: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Sham-Controlled StudyYanli Jia,1,† Luoyi Xu,1,† Kehua Yang,1,† Yingchun Zhang,1 Xinghui Lv,1 Zhenwei Zhu,1 Zheli Chen,2 Yunlong Zhu,3 Lili Wei,1 Xia Li,4 Mincai Qian,2 Yuedi Shen,5 Weiming Hu,3,* and Wei Chen. Front Aging Neurosci. 2021; 13: 693611.Published online 2021 Jun 29. doi: 10.3389/fnagi.2021.693611https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8276073/
- BMC. Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation increases the brain’s drainage efficiency in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease. Yangyang Lin, Jian Jin, Rongke Lv, Yuan Luo, Weiping Dai, Wenchang Li, Yamei Tang, Yuling Wang, Xiaojing Ye & Wei-Jye Lin. Acta Neuropathologica Communications. Published: 02 June 2021. https://actaneurocomms.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40478-021-01198-3