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Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease – What Is The Difference?

The words dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease are often used interchangeably. Exactly what do these terms mean? Let’s start with dementia. Dementia is not a specific disease. It is a condition in which a set of symptoms exist that cause individuals to have difficulty functioning in their daily lives. These symptoms are related to thinking and to social abilities, and can include memory loss, impaired judgment, and difficulty with language.

Dementia can be reversible, or it can progress over time. The cause of the dementia determines the category to which it belongs, and thus the method of treatment. Some causes of reversible dementias include:

  • Infections such as urinary tract infections, Lyme disease or meningitis
  • Immune disorders such as leukemia
  • Thyroid abnormalities
  • Dehydration or a deficiency of certain B vitamins
  • Medication side effects or interactions
  • Poisoning (for example- exposure to lead)

By treating the above conditions, the symptoms of dementia can be reduced or eliminated. Other dementias, however, can worsen over time. Vascular dementia occurs when there is reduced or blocked blood flow to the brain. The symptoms of vascular dementia usually have a sudden onset, and often occur in people who have high blood pressure, or have had a stroke or heart attack. Lewy body dementia is another type of progressive dementia. Lewy bodies are abnormal clumps of protein in the brain that can cause tremors and rigidity similar to Parkinson’s Disease; visual hallucinations; fluctuations between confusion and clear thinking; and rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder, in which an individual acts out dreams.

The most common type of progressive dementia is Alzheimer’s Disease. This disease affects over five million Americans, most of whom are age 65 or older. About 5% of victims have early onset Alzheimer’s, with symptoms beginning to surface when they are in their 40’s or 50’s. Survival with Alzheimer’s disease can range from four to twenty years, depending on a person’s age and other health conditions. The primary risk factors for Alzheimer’s include age, family history, and heredity. Alzheimer’s IS NOT a normal part of aging. The symptoms are caused by the destruction and death of nerve cells in the brain. Continued research is needed to determine exactly how and why the destruction begins.

The Alzheimer’s Association,, lists ten warning signs of Alzheimer’s Disease. They are as follows:

  • Memory loss that disrupts daily life
  • Challenges in planning or solving problems
  • Difficulty in completing familiar tasks at home, work or with leisure activities
  • Confusion with time or place
  • Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
  • Trouble finding words when speaking or writing
  • Misplacing items and being unable to retrace your steps
  • Decreased or poor judgment
  • Withdrawal from work or usual activities
  • Changes in mood and personality

So, while Alzheimer’s Disease is a type of dementia, not all dementias are related to Alzheimer’s Disease. The symptoms may be similar, but it is important to obtain a thorough medical evaluation when dementia is suspected in order to determine the appropriate cause. While some dementias can be successfully treated, Alzheimer’s Disease currently has no method of prevention or cure. The Alzheimer’s Association is hosting the annual WALK TO END ALZHEIMER’S on September 21st to increase awareness, as well as to raise money for research and for care and support of those with the disease. The staff at Keystone Elder Law invites you to join our team in the fight against this devastating disease. Call our office at 717-697-3223 or visit for more details. We hope to see you there!

We are having a free seminar on Thursday, August 22. Please call us at 717-697-3223 to RSVP! Light refreshments will be provided.

Karen Kaslow, RN, BSN
Elder Care Coordinator