Dementia vs. Alzheimer’s: What’s the difference?

It’s not just memory loss, and ‘senile’ doesn’t explain it – here are the differences between dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor announced last week that she is in the early stages of dementia. What is dementia, and how does it differ from Alzheimer’s disease?

Dementia describes symptoms that include memory loss, difficulty performing daily tasks and trouble communicating. It does not have a definitive diagnosis, though it can affect a person’s ability to function. According to the World Health Organization, 47.5 million people worldwide have dementia.

Symptoms of dementia

People with dementia have at least two of the following:

  • Memory loss
  • Issues with focus and concentration
  • Difficulty communicating and speaking
  • Decreased reasoning and judgment
  • Decreased visual perception, such as differentiating colors or detecting movement

Related: How to communicate with a loved one who has Alzheimer’s disease or dementia

Causes of dementia

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Alzheimer’s can be one of dementia’s many causes. Alzheimer’s causes somewhere between 50 percent and 70 percent of all dementias.

Alzheimer’s is a degenerative disease that causes memory loss, confusion, aggression and mood changes. There are a few medications that can deal with memory loss for those with Alizheimer’s. Other medications may help with other symptoms. There is no cure.

Other diseases that cause dementia include Huntington’s disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, vascular dementia, frontotemporal dementia and dementia with Lewy bodies.

If you or a loved one suspects dementia, be sure to discuss it with your primary care provider.


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