9/1/2020 by Share Your Story

Alzheimer’s and Dementia: What are the Differences?

Do you know the difference between Alzheimer's and dementia, or frontotemporal and Lewy-body dementia? I thought I did, but I was wrong.


I recently had a conversation with someone about aging and memory dysfunction. I found myself refering to Alzheimer’s and dementia interchangedly. It was only after the conversation was over that I reminded myself that Alzheimer’s and dementia are not quite the same thing. Let’s explore that….


Are Alzheimer’s and dementia different diseases? What’s common and what’s different about them? According to the U.S. Government, dementia is not a single disease, rather a collection of symptoms that can be caused by disorders that affect the brain.

Age-related dementia—characterized by loss of a person’s ability to think, remember, problem solve, or reason—is currently estimated to affect about 5 million individuals in the U.S. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia.

Differences Between Alzheimer’s and Dementia

The term dementia is used to describe a loss of cognitive function and behavior that impair performance of routine activities. While not a normal part of aging, dementia is more common among the older population. In addition to Alzheimer’s, Lewy body dementia, frontotemporal disorders, and vascular dementia are the other known types. Certain clinical conditions can lead to reversible dementia-like symptoms:

  •       Side-effects of some medicines
  •       Vitamin deficiencies
  •       Stress, anxiety, or depression
  •       Concussion or some other form of head injury
  •       Thyroid, liver, or kidney problems
alzheimer's disease

normal brain versus Alzheimer’s disease in the brain – wikimedia commons

What Is Alzheimer’s and How Does It Progress?

Alzheimer’s Disease progresses gradually, the different stages manifesting over more than a decade. There are three broad stages of progression: early, middle, and late-stage.

Alzheimer’s Disease progresses gradually, the different stages manifesting over more than a decade. There are three broad stages of progression: early, middle, and late-stage. Click To Tweet

Early stage:

Individuals with early-stage of the disease still have their independence. They may still be actively working and interacting socially. Symptoms such as memory lapses, forgetting commonly used words, forgetting names of people they may have newly met, etc. may appear almost a decade after cognitive issues become obvious. Those closest to the individual may be the ones to notice these symptoms.

Here is a page from the Alzheimer’s Association, with resources for those who have been newly diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

Middle-stage:

This stage can last a long time, even years. The disease symptoms become more prominent and the person may confuse words, show signs of frustration or anger, or display unusual behaviors such as not wanting to bathe. Other symptoms may include:

  • Confusion about day or time
  • Remembering personal information
  • Trouble controlling the bladder or bowel movements
  • Personality changes such as delusions or compulsive behavior

There is also the fear of individuals wandering away from home. Constant assistance will be required for daily activities, which can put stress on family caregivers.

Late stage:

The most severe stage of Alzheimer’s is the late stage when communication and mobility rapidly deteriorate. Extensive care needs may be needed as the person…:

  • Loses awareness of surroundings
  • Has problems with walking, sitting, and maybe even swallowing
  • Faces difficulty with communicating
  • Becomes vulnerable to infections

To ensure dignity and comfort towards the end, support services are recommended.

You can find detailed information from the Alzheimer’s Association on what can be expected and how to best manage the late stage of Alzheimer’s. 

If you want to find a caregiver or a home health aide in your area, use the Patients Rising Concierge tool. It pulls resources from a carefully curated list of reliable nonprofit, state and private services and institutions. It’s safe and free to use.

The information we provide is for educational purposes only. Please seek advice from a medical professional for specific clinical symptoms.


Additional Resources

  1.     Dementia information: https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/All-Disorders/Dementia-Information-Page.
  2.     Toolkit for Alzheimer’s disease: https://www.brightfocus.org/alzheimers
  3.     Challenges faced by the Alzheimer’s caregiver: https://patientsrising.org/alzheimers-caregiver-difficulties/.
  4.     Clinical trials recruiting for Alzheimer’s: https://bit.ly/2YIQhmQ.

Patients Rising acknowledges the important contributions of Surabhi Dangi-Garimella, Ph.D. in this article. Improving patient access is our mission and we are happy to utilize a variety of experts to carry that out.


Spread the Word:

You'll receive updates about new resources, patient stories and insights, advocacy work, and alerts about patient-support events.
The latest about patient advocacy

Join our Email List

Get notified about new stories and resources to empower patients and caregivers.