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What is the Difference between Alzheimer’s and Dementia?

The information below was adapted from the following website, which was updated on January 24, 2017:

This brief blog article is not intended to provide a diagnosis or treatment. Please consult your health care provider and/or conduct your own research. Much information is readily available on these topics and we encourage you to investigate further.

There tends to be a lot of confusion about the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia.

The terms “Alzheimer’s” and “dementia” are often used interchangeably, but they are different. Dementia is a syndrome, whereas Alzheimer’s disease is the cause of the symptoms.

Dementia is not a specific disease. Instead, dementia describes a group of symptoms affecting memory, thinking and social abilities severely enough to interfere with daily functioning. Although dementia generally involves memory loss, memory loss has different causes. Therefore, memory loss alone does not mean a person has “dementia.”

As mentioned, dementia includes a group of symptoms, the most prominent of which is difficulty with memory, together with additional problems in at least one other area of cognitive functioning such as language, attention, problem solving, spatial skills, judgment, planning or organization.

These cognitive problems represent a noticeable change compared to the person’s cognitive functioning earlier in life and are severe enough to get in the way of normal daily living, including social and occupational activities.

A good analogy for the term dementia is “fever.” A fever refers to an elevated temperature, indicating that a person is sick. However, it does not give any information about what is causing the sickness.

In the same way, dementia means there is something wrong with a person’s brain, but it does not provide any specific information about what is causing the memory or cognitive difficulties.

Dementia is not a disease, rather it is the clinical presentation or symptoms of a disease.

There are many possible causes of dementia, some of which are reversible such as certain thyroid conditions or vitamin deficiencies.

If those underlying problems are identified and treated, then the dementia can possibly be reversed and the person can return to normal functioning.

If you notice any changes in your own behavior or in a loved one’s behavior, no matter how subtle, seek medical advice immediately. Knowledge is power!

Image from:
The Alzheimer’s Reading Room website (above)

2017 © Norma-Jean Strickland

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Common Terms

  • Assisted Living Home – An assisted living facility that provides resident rooms to ten or fewer residents. A health care institution other than a hospital or a nursing care institution that provides resident beds or residential units, supervisory care services, personal care services, directed care services or health-related services for persons who do not need continuous nursing services.
  • Adult Foster Care Home – A residential setting that provides room and board and adult foster care services for at least one and no more than four adults who are participants in the Arizona long-term care system and in which the sponsor or the manager resides with the residents and integrates the residents who are receiving adult foster care into that person’s family.
  • Adult Foster Care Services – Supervision, assistance with eating, bathing, toileting, dressing, self-medication and other routines of daily living or services.
  • Assisted Living Center – An assisted living facility that provides resident rooms or residential units to eleven or more residents.
  • Assisted Living Facility – A residential care institution, including an adult foster care home, that provides or contracts to provide supervisory care services, personal care services or directed care services on a continuous basis.
  • Assessment – A written analysis of a resident’s abilities; preferences; and need for supervisory care services, personal care services, or directed care services.
  • Activities of Daily Living – Bathing, dressing, grooming, eating, mobility, transfer, and toileting.
  • Healthcare Institution – Every place, institution, building or agency, whether organized for profit or not, which provides facilities with medical services, nursing services, health screening services, other health-related services, supervisory care services, personal care services, directed care services and includes home health agencies.
  • Nursing Care Institution – A health care institution that provides inpatient beds or resident beds and nursing services to persons who need continuous nursing services but who do not require hospital care or direct daily care from a physician. Nursing care institution does not include an institution for the care and treatment of the sick that is operated only for those who rely solely on treatment by prayer or spiritual means in accordance with the tenets of a recognized religious denomination.
  • Nursing Services – Those services that pertain to the curative, restorative and preventive aspects of nursing care and that are performed at the direction of a physician by or under the supervision of a registered nurse licensed in this state.
  • Residential Unit – A private apartment, unless otherwise requested by a resident, that includes a living and sleeping space, kitchen area, private bathroom and storage area.
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