Is it Alzheimer’s, Dementia or Memory Loss?

By August 4, 2017Dementia

It has become common to use the terms “Alzheimer’s” and “dementia” interchangeably to describe any type of memory loss. The increased use of these terms has clouded the understanding of what are very different diseases. It has also led to the widespread assumption that all memory loss is either Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia. That is not the case. In fact, there are many types of dementia and caring for Alzheimer’s disease is just one of them. There is also natural, age-related memory loss. As a family caregiver of a senior, it is important to know the differences between the three. Here are the definitions, signs, and symptoms of the three types of memory loss.


Dementia is a term used for symptoms that adversely affect memory and thinking. Alzheimer’s disease is one type of dementia. There are other types of dementia that have different causes including vascular dementia, Huntington’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease. When dementia is caused by medications or vascular conditions, medical treatments may improve the symptoms. People with dementia will find it difficult to learn new information, process the written or spoken work, and will lose the ability to use maps and symbols. They will lose certain spatial functions making it difficult for them to judge the distance between themselves and objects. They will also lose certain executive functions, making it difficult for them to reason or solve problems.

There are different types of dementia:

Vascular dementia: This type of dementia occurs when blood clots prevent the blood from flowing to parts of the brain. As a result, brain cells die causing memory loss, confusion, difficulty focusing and other symptoms. It depends upon which areas of the brain are affected by the blocked veins and arteries. The symptoms of vascular dementia may happen suddenly or occur slowly over time. People who have a history of high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes may be at greater risk for vascular dementia.

Mixed Dementia: People may have Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia at the same time. Alzheimer’s disease cannot be clinically diagnosed until after death. However, researchers say that brain scans conducted during autopsies show that up to 45 percent of people with dementia have both Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia.

Lewy Body Disease, also known as Dementia with Lewy Bodies (DLB): In this type of dementia, abnormal deposits of proteins (Lewy bodies) develop inside the nerve cells in the brain. When they do, they cause symptoms that range from memory impairment, confusion and drowsiness to a shuffling walk, hallucinations and a lack of facial expression.

Learn more: ‘How to weave joy into the care of dementia patients’

Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia and it accounts for 50 to 70% of all dementia cases1. It has pronounced symptoms, cannot be cured, and eventually, leads to death. Some of the most common symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease include the inability to recognize loved ones, impaired speech and the inability to process numbers and language. Alzheimer’s disease is progressive and becomes steadily worse with time. Those who suffer with Alzheimer’s disease will exhibit mood changes and confusion. They will have difficulty doing multiple tasks at once, will misplace things and not be able to recall where they are. They will also become disoriented in places familiar to them.

Keep reading: ‘Five beneficial activities caregivers can do with Alzheimer’s patients’

Memory Loss

Age-related memory loss occurs naturally as brain cells die and oxygen levels in the brain decrease. Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are not a normal part of aging. Age-related memory loss may result in temporarily forgetting where the car keys are, or someone’s name. However, those facts can be recalled eventually. Age-related memory loss does not interfere with the ability to function in daily life.

As you can see, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and age-related memory loss are vastly different. Knowing the difference between the three when caring for a loved one with dementia or Alzheimer’s will make a big difference. Tracking and documenting the symptoms will help your loved one’s physician to diagnose the problem, treat what can be treated and then find the support and resources that you and your loved one need.

[1:] Difference between Alzheimer’s and Dementia

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