Alzheimer’s Disease Vs. Dementia

What is the Difference?

times go by concept digital illustration orange on blackWhat is the difference between Alzheimer’s disease and dementia? This is one of the most common questions I receive when I give presentations in the community or answer the U-M Memory Connection line. This is a great question because the terms are often used in place of one another, despite the fact that they mean different things.

In brief, dementia is a broad term used to describe a collection of symptoms. The symptoms are caused by changes in brain function and they are severe enough to affect daily functioning. There are many reasons why someone may have dementia. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for approximately 75% of dementia cases, and that is why the words are often used interchangeably.

Visual images

I like to use the following visual images when illustrating the difference:

  • Imagine that the fruit bowl in your kitchen is dementia. While there are several different pieces of fruit in the bowl, the fruit found most frequently, perhaps a banana, is Alzheimer’s disease. The other fruits in the bowl represent other causes of dementia that aren’t quite as common, such as vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, frontotemporal dementia, or reversible dementias induced by things like a urinary tract infection or a vitamin deficiency.
  • Imagine that your grandchild has a runny nose. Their runny nose is not a specific disease or condition; it is just a symptom. There are many different potential reasons for the runny nose. It may be caused by influenza, a sinus infection or a reaction to being outside in a cold temperature for too long. In the same way, dementia is not a specific disease and there are several reasons a person may exhibit dementia, the most common of which is Alzheimer’s disease.

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5 Ways to Protect Your Memory

Many middle-aged adults are concerned about developing memory loss later in life. While there is no guaranteed way to prevent memory loss, researchers are finding out more and more about how the brain works and how to keep it healthy. Here are five important steps you can take to maintain a healthy brain:

It's important to interact with others.

People are good for our brain.

  1. Eat right

Choose vegetables, fish, eggs, legumes (lentils, beans), nuts, olive oil and fruits. Limit red meat, alcohol and sugar. Avoid processed and packaged food as much as possible. A healthful diet will also reduce the risk for diabetes, which is linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

  1. Exercise

We can’t stress enough the importance of all types of exercise. If you haven’t exercised for a while, start by walking. Aim for 30 minutes of exercise 5 days a week. Talk with your doctor before you pursue any formal exercise program.  Continue reading

Detour Ahead: Your Journey road sign for dementia or memory loss

DetourLife is a journey. The Detour Ahead road sign acknowledges that dementia or memory loss significantly alters a person’s journey through life. Other road sign tips for living with memory loss will be introduced over the next few months.

Just as detours are not a normal, expected part of your daily commute or family road trip, dementia is not a normal part of aging. As you age, a few changes can be expected such as:

  • Increase in forgetfulness. The older we are, the more we have learned and have to remember.  It is normal to become more forgetful after age 50.
  • Slowing of response times
  • Decline in vision and hearing abilities
  • Increased cautiousness

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