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The Difference Between Dementia and Alzheimer’s

When discussing cognitive decline in seniors, it’s important to avoid stereotypes and generalizations. One misstep you should work to avoid is using the terms “dementia” and “Alzheimer’s” interchangeably. So, what’s the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s disease?

The Difference Between Dementia and Alzheimer’s

One of the most frustrating misconceptions about aging is the assumption that every senior is going to experience Alzheimer’s or dementia. It’s important to avoid making assumptions about these conditions for two reasons. Firstly, the idea that every senior is suffering from dementia is a stereotype that can lead to seniors being misdiagnosed, being discriminated against, or even experiencing cognitive issues caused by stress. Secondly, caretakers need to understand the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia so they can provide appropriate care. 

What Is Alzheimer’s?

Alzheimer’s is a progressive brain disease that affects a senior’s cognitive abilities. Doctors are not sure exactly what causes Alzheimer’s. Currently, they believe it is related to the brain losing its ability to repair cells. It is typically first noticed in seniors over the age of sixty-five, though early-onset Alzheimer’s is also possible. It usually manifests as memory difficulties, and then produces other symptoms. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s, but there have been significant advances in treatment since it was first discovered.

What Is Dementia?

Dementia is defined as an umbrella term for changes in a senior’s thinking, memory, and cognitive abilities that are severe enough to interfere with their daily life. Dementia covers every condition that can provoke these changes. While 60 to 80 percent of dementia sufferers have Alzheimer’s, there are many other types of dementia, including the following:

  • Vascular dementia (caused by blockages in blood vessels in the brain)
  • Frontotemporal dementia (caused by damage to the frontal lobe)
  • Lewy Body dementia (caused by protein accumulations on neurons)
  • Diseases such as Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, and other degenerative diseases that affect cognitive functions

Seniors can experience “mixed dementia,” or dementia caused by multiple conditions. For example, Lewy Body dementia can also be a sign of advancing Parkinson’s. This is why it’s important to know what specific conditions are causing dementia in a senior. Being able to identify the cause can help identify different strategies and medicines that mitigate the specific conditions caused by these diseases.

What If I’m Not Sure?

If you have a loved one that you suspect may be suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s, keep in mind that due to the mental changes they are experiencing, they may not even be aware of what you are concerned about. They also may be resistant to treatment due to anxiety, defensiveness, or fear of a bad diagnosis. Treat your senior loved one with dignity and respect and do not make assumptions about what they are experiencing. Instead, show empathy and help them explore their options.

It’s also important to note that a condition that appears to be dementia may be something else entirely. Side effects from medications, deficiencies of certain vitamins, or even a disrupted sleep schedule can affect a senior’s cognitive abilities. Instead of just assuming the cause, it’s important to have a doctor evaluate the person and provide an appropriate treatment plan.


Knowing the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia is important for everyone. If you suspect that you or a senior loved one may be dealing with these conditions, the best thing to do is to talk to a medical professional. There may not be a cure yet, but medical advances in assisted living and memory care can help. Don’t go through it alone.

Are you seeking an assisted livingmemory support, or physician-directed nursing community in Kansas City? Check out The Piper. Our team of experienced and compassionate professionals ensures that residents feel secure and comfortable right away. At our warm and welcoming community, which is truly a “home within a home,” we foster social interaction, engagement, and the right amount of care. Our residents always come first. To learn more about our services or to schedule a tour, please give us a call at 913-361-5136 or contact us online.