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Distinguishing Dementia from Alzheimer’s

sad old man with dementia

As we age, our brains change.  Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias are not an inevitable part of aging.  According to the CDC, up to 40% of dementia cases may be delayed and possibly even prevented.

Before diving into the differences between dementia and Alzheimer’s, allow me to introduce myself. I’m Heather Schanou, the Sales & Marketing Director at AdvanceCare Health Services.  This is my last article in a 3-part series about dementia.  The first article touched on the stages of dementia and when it might be time to seek caregiver assistance.  Next, I provided tips on how to care for someone with dementia, including establishing communication strategies, the importance of routines, and how to create a calm environment. Each article includes a personal perspective, referencing my Grandmother and her struggles with dementia.

This article will encompass the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s.  Both affect memory and can impact how a person behaves and communicates.  But dementia is not a specific disease.  It is a general term that describes a wide range of symptoms, while Alzheimer’s is a particular type of dementia.  Despite dementia or Alzheimer’s being most common in adults over 65, neither is considered a regular part of aging.  Symptoms of the two conditions are similar, but determining their differences is important for determining treatment.

I can recall the time when my grandmother began exhibiting signs of dementia. It all began with her repeating herself. Later, she started experiencing memory lapses, such as forgetting where she had been or what she had bought while out.  As my Grandmother’s dementia progressed, my Grandfather’s physical health worsened, and he struggled to care for her.  He made the difficult decision of placing her in a nursing home. I wish that at that time, we had more information about her symptoms and more options for her treatment.

Dementia isn’t just about simple memory mishaps — like forgetting someone’s name or what you did that morning. A person with dementia may also struggle with communicating, concentrating, reasoning and judgment, and visual perception.  The four most common types of clinical dementia are: Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy body, and frontotemporal dementia.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s is a degenerative brain disease caused by complex changes in the brain’s cells.  The most common early symptom is trouble remembering new information.  As the disease advances, side effects include disorientation, confusion, and changes in behavior.  Things like speaking and walking can even become complicated.  While there is no cure, many therapies can improve the quality of life for people with Alzheimer’s.

Vascular dementia is often called “post-stroke dementia,” and these symptoms vary depending on which region of the brain is affected.  Lewy Body Dementia can sometimes mimic other diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and is therefore often misdiagnosed.  Frontotemporal Degeneration (FTD) includes symptoms such as loss of motivation, compulsive behaviors, and anxiety.  FTD does affect an individual’s behavior, but memory is usually unaffected.  While there’s no treatment for vascular dementia, Lewy Body Dementia, or FTD, early diagnosis can make a big difference. Physical therapy and speech therapy can improve outcomes.

Since some types of dementia share similar symptoms, it can be tricky to figure out which one your loved one has.  Understanding the four main types and knowing what to look for can help you determine the proper treatment. Caregivers can help you with this!  Caregivers recognize patterns and implement solutions.  At AdvanceCare, our caregivers are trained to introduce themselves whenever they come into contact with a client struggling with dementia.  We take steps to avoid confusion and agitation and to be proactive and communicative.

Dementia help and support are available!  Call the 24/7 helpline at 800-272-3900 or visit to find a support group in your community.  For a free consultation on how AdvanceCare can assist your loved one with their journey, call 615-891-4132 or visit

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