≡ Menu

Dementia vs. Alzheimer’s – What’s the Difference?

Dementia vs Alzheimer's

Dementia vs. Alzheimer’s

Has one doctor told you that your aging parent has “dementia” while another has referred to the same condition as “Alzheimer’s”? Believe me, you are not alone. To understand the difference between dementia vs. Alzheimer’s, we’ll need to walk through the definition of each. Let’s start with dementia.

“Dementia” refers to a large cluster of symptoms

These symptoms include: short-term memory loss, poor judgment, difficulty performing familiar tasks, etc. When a person develops these symptoms, it is often a sign that something is wrong inside the brain. A visit to the doctor for testing is a critical first step.

Determining the cause of dementia

Dementia symptoms can be caused by different things and testing helps to pinpoint the cause.  Through the process of testing, reversible reasons for the symptoms can be identified and treated such as a vitamin deficiency or even depression.

The #1 cause of dementia

When the symptoms of dementia can’t be explained by a reversible cause, testing turns to the three most common (and irreversible) causes of dementia. The first among these is Alzheimer’s disease which is believed to be responsible for as much as 70% of all dementia.

In these instances, a diagnosis of Dementia of the Alzheimer’s type is given and, for short, many health care providers refer to this as Alzheimer’s. So in some cases, the terms “dementia” and “Alzheimer’s” are one and the same.

The #2 cause of dementia

The second most common cause of dementia accounting for roughly 30% of all cases is high blood pressure.  Well, actually it’s high blood pressure and high cholesterol with some extra help provided by diabetes.  Are you surprised by this?

The official diagnosis given to the kind of dementia that is caused by high blood pressure and it’s good friends high cholesterol and diabetes is called Vascular Dementia or Multi-Infarct Dementia.

Understanding Vascular Dementia also known as Multi-Infarct Dementia

To have a brain in tiptop shape, blood needs to flow smoothly to and from it.  This is what makes high blood pressure (i.e. hypertension), high cholesterol and diabetes so bad.  Each one in its own special way, plays a part in making it difficult for blood to flow.

Not unlike the hair that may get stuck in your bathtub drain, fat and other nasty particles can get stuck in your arteries. Over time, this can make it tough for the blood (like the water in your bathroom pipes) to flow smoothly.  The more gunk in there, the more likely that a full-on blockage or interruption in the blood flow will occur.  When this happens it’s called an infarction.  Dementia can result from one too many infarctions…

One significant difference between Alzheimer’s and Vascular Dementia

Depending upon the stage of Alzheimer’s a person is in, medications such as Aricept and Namenda may be used to delay the progression of symptoms. While those with Vascular Dementia can sometimes slow the decline by lowering blood pressure and cholesterol and getting better control over diabetes.  Lastly- and this is very important – much of the research suggests that good overall health (among other things!) can help to protect the brain against developing Alzheimer’s and, of course, Vascular Dementia.

The #3 cause of dementia

The third most common cause of dementia is Parkinson’s Disease.  To be clear, this doesn’t mean that everyone who has Parkinson’s Disease will develop dementia, but some people do.  However, this kind of dementia typically develops during later stages of the illness.

If it is determined that Parkinson’s Disease is the cause of the dementia in your aging parent, the official diagnosis would be: Dementia Due to Parkinson’s Disease.

Dementia vs. Alzheimer’s – Which is more serious?

They both are and really, they both require that you begin to think about long term care planning.  I’ve written a lot about dementia and Alzheimer’s on this site. Use the SEARCH button above to have a poke around or begin with the articles below.

{ 25 comments… add one }
  • Maria December 30, 2013, 6:55 AM

    Acceptance is so very difficulty to get to. Glad you’re there.

  • Maria December 30, 2013, 6:54 AM

    Juanita, What you’re describing is certainly concerning because it’s a change from her previous level of functioning. She should be seen by a doctor ideally with you/and or her husband present to discuss the behavior you’re seeing. (And something tells me you won’t have to alert her husband…my guess is that he’s seeing the same behavior you are).

  • Maria December 30, 2013, 6:51 AM

    You are most welcome, Angela. Glad it was helpful.

  • Maria December 30, 2013, 6:48 AM

    I think it’s time to see another doctor – a neurologist, preferably. Finding a diagnosis may take some time, but clearly something is not right.

  • Maria December 30, 2013, 6:45 AM

    I agree completely.

  • Maria December 30, 2013, 6:44 AM

    Yes. Support is key. Don’t deprive yourself that support. It’s a whole new ball game when it happens to you and the road can be long. Also, any time, effort, money spent trying to support your parents in their desire to stay in their home seems to me it would be well-spent.

  • Maria December 30, 2013, 6:42 AM

    Hi Margaret, I am not at all qualified to say, but it seems clear you need a good primary care doctor who can help you sort this out. Hope you find one.

  • Maria December 30, 2013, 6:41 AM

    Hi Andrea,
    So glad you found the site. It was built for you (even before you ever visited). Best, Maria

  • Maria December 30, 2013, 6:38 AM

    She could have a Parkinson’s-like dementia (Lewey bodies dementia). And at the same time she can also have pneumonia. Hope you’ve gotten clarity from the doctor on your mom’s health status. If you’re still unclear about what you’re dealing with, please seek a second opinion.

  • gerrie September 29, 2012, 8:57 PM

    my mother is 97 years old and I have been told that she has demenita. she does not know who I am but think that I am her mother. she knows that her name is Beulah but that is it. Lately she her arms and hands have been shaking making me think that she has parkison. I am not sure the doctor says it is not parkinson but came about because she had pneumonia. I just found this site and will read all about the difference between the two.

  • Andrea September 20, 2012, 1:49 PM

    Mom has been losing short term memory for a while now. Doctor just diagnosed her with dementia. Don’t know if having it labeled makes me feel better or not. My Dad chooses to ignore it and they both want to stay in their home. Their ages are 90 and 91. It is very painful to watch and even harder to know how what to do next.
    At this point there does not seem to be any medications that will have any affect on the symptoms so we will take it one day at a time. This site was helpful because it shows me that many other people are going through the same things. I feel very alone many times dealing with this.

  • margaret September 20, 2012, 11:22 AM

    I should tell you I am on b.p. meds but my bp is very good and I seem to have no trouble with that.

  • margaret September 20, 2012, 11:16 AM

    This past winter I becames very ill with diarhea and vomiting and went to emergency room. I was left with extreme dizziness and had a procedure to fix that, but now I have a problem with remembering names, but absolutely no signs of alz. or dementia. What could it be?

  • Sue Goff September 20, 2012, 8:44 AM

    Very useful information. I have been a surgical nurse until now that I’m 64. My mom has developed dementia and she and dad are in denial. She is on Aricept. I always go to the doctor with them. She is 84, he is 87.
    She is also hateful and mean to my dad, and it breaks my heart. They will NOT even talk about coming out of their home. I knew a great deal about the pathology of Dementia/Alzheimer’s, bit I had never experienced it in my OWN family……very difficult emotional journey!! Sue

  • Marjie September 17, 2012, 9:40 AM

    Suzanne, your friend should have his meds checked by a pharmacist as there are meds that conflict and can cause many problems, even though Doctors will deny
    it, but the pharmacist is the one that really understands the drugs..

  • suzanne August 31, 2012, 6:19 PM

    i have a friend who is 78. 3 years ago he did not remember a rod he has driven for 11 years he started mumbling and losing control of his arms. now he has a problem with his tounge, moving it around in his mouth. the symtions have progressed. he has seen drs here and in st louis. the dr have run the mri’s and brain tests with the electroides on his head. he is smart and can answer the jeopary questions 90 % of the time.he went for a walk with my husband and kept kicking his leg out. he knos he does some of the things. the doctors say nothing is wrong what do you think??

  • Angela Cunningham August 31, 2012, 10:11 AM

    This information was very informative. My mother was diagnose with Alzheimers several years ago when the information and details need about the disease were limited. As a caretakers it left the family confused about what to do and exactly how to handle the changes that were taking place. We did not have a clue about what to expect back then. Reading your post has enlighten my understanding greatly. Thanks for a better understanding of the disease.

  • Juanita Torres August 31, 2012, 8:34 AM

    I Am very concerned about my sister because she forgets things such as her way to her home or to a store, returning phone calls, things on the oven or stove and conversations we had previously etc. Last week on Wednesday, she invited me for dinner on the next Friday and have a great time after she had a surgery the week before and I accepted her invitation. Then, she called me on Thursday I mentioned that I would bring dessert for dinner and she surprised me with her answer, she denied that she invited me for dinner. Is Dementia? She has two kids 6 and 7 year old. Is ok to alert her husband or other family members?

  • delorice August 31, 2012, 7:57 AM

    My Mother has been diagnosed but no test were taken .It was determined by her actions about 5 years ago she started having hallucinations and was afraid to be alone.The docter did an office assesment and said early onset dementia. She is on namenda and exelon patch. Her memory has worsen but she still does well for 90.Blood pressure is good and no diabetes or high cholestrol. At this point we’ve excepted it and are thankful she is able to have as normal life as possible

  • Maria January 17, 2012, 11:18 AM

    Hi Juli,
    That’s a good question and one worth asking the doctor. Vascular dementia is typically rooted in poor cardiovascular health (i.e. high blood pressure, heart failure, etc.). Without this, I am as stumped as you.

  • Juli Tenbrink January 16, 2012, 9:34 AM

    My 60 year old husband was diagnosed with vascular dementia this past July. He has exceptionallly good heart health and no blood pressure problems either. He did have a cancerous brain tumor removed at age 17 and has had Hepatitis C. (The Hep C has disappeared after an experimental chemo treatment 6 years ago.) Why would the doctor diagnose vascular rather than Alzheimer’s? Juli

  • a.m July 31, 2011, 8:06 PM

    Very informative and easy to understand.

  • Dean Smith July 6, 2011, 9:31 PM

    Thanks Maria,

    I’m just getting started. I’m glad I found your site first. Thanks in advance.

    Dean Smith

  • Anonymous June 16, 2010, 1:16 AM

    What a great resource!

  • MarkSpizer May 3, 2010, 3:42 AM

    great post as usual!

Leave a Comment