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The 5 Key Differences Between Alzheimer’s and Dementia

It’s common for the terms Alzheimer’s and dementia to be tossed around interchangeably. This is likely due to their overlapping symptoms. 

But, when it comes down to it, they are not the same. With that said, Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most common forms of dementia, which adds to the confusion you may have.

While understanding the differences between Alzheimer’s and dementia can be confusing, you can learn how to distinguish them.  This knowledge is critical when you are caring for a senior loved one. 

If you notice that your loved one displays memory loss symptoms that seem more than the typical memory lapses that come with aging, you should reach out to their doctor. Depending on which condition your senior loved one has, their management and treatment will differ. 

To help your senior loved one maintain and improve their overall health and get the best treatment for their condition, continue reading below. You will learn the five differences between Alzheimer’s disease and dementia: including their symptoms, causes, types, stages, and treatment options.

Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disease that has no cure. 

Over time, seniors’ memory and abilities will worsen, requiring them more assistance and care. 


  • Difficulty remembering names and events 
  • Problems concentrating
  • Depression
  • Impaired judgment
  • Confusion
  • Personality changes
  • Mood changes
  • Difficulty swallowing and speaking


The typical cause of Alzheimer’s disease is damage to the brain.

The damage that takes place stems from an abnormal build-up of proteins. One of the proteins, beta-amyloid, leads to plaques, which interrupts the communication between neurons—Tau, another protein that creates tangles, also prevents communication between neurons by blocking their transport system. 


Though there is no cure, there are treatments to make the disease more manageable.

Seniors can benefit from certain types of medication (sleeping pills, antidepressants, and antipsychotics) that will ease some of their symptoms. These medications will help seniors with insomnia, reduce their depression and anxiety, and help with behavioral changes. 

Medications for memory loss are also available. They will not stop the progression of the disease, but they can lessen or stabilize symptoms by changing the chemicals that relay messages between the brain’s nerve cells. 

While not a cure, living a healthier lifestyle by changing sleeping or eating habits can help slow the progression of their disease and make them feel healthier. 

Three stages

The most common symptom of Alzheimer’s disease is memory loss, but as your senior loved one progresses through the stages, different symptoms will appear.

The three stages of Alzheimer’s are: mild, moderate, and advanced Alzheimer’s disease. Let’s look at the symptoms in each stage.

Mild Alzheimer’s disease

  • Memory loss
  • Poor judgment
  • Taking longer to complete tasks
  • Forgetting to pay bills
  • Losing or misplacing things
  • Heightened anxiety

Moderate Alzheimer’s disease

  • Increased memory loss, confusion, anxiety, and agitation
  • Inability to learn new things 
  • Struggling to read and write
  • Not recognizing family and friends 
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Wandering
  • Hallucinations, paranoia, and delusions

Advanced Alzheimer’s disease

  • Inability to communicate
  • Inability to walk 
  • Difficulty swallowing 
  • Seizures
  • Loss of bowel and bladder control
  • Grunting and moaning


Unlike Alzheimer’s disease, dementia is not a specific disease. It is a medical term used for a senior struggling to remember, think, or make everyday decisions. Though its symptoms vary from person to person, some signs are more common and persistent than others. 


  • Memory loss
  • Shorter attention span 
  • Difficulty with reasoning, judgment, and problem-solving
  • Getting lost in familiar places
  • Forgetting familiar names
  • Using unusual words to refer to everyday objects
  • Forgetting old memories


There is a wide range of causes, with the strongest risk factor being age. Most adults who go on to develop dementia are 65 years or older. 

Another cause is traumatic brain injuries. Especially if a head injury is severe or head injuries are recurrent. 

Other common causes are infections, stroke, depression, thyroid imbalances, degenerative diseases, and chronic drug use.


Unlike Alzheimer’s, dementia can have different types to describe what a senior is experiencing. 

Vascular dementia

Damage to the vascular system is caused by problems in the supply of blood to brain cells. Strokes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes put a senior at risk of developing this type. 

Lewy body dementia

A neurodegenerative disease that is caused by Lewy bodies (proteins) found inside neurons. 

Fronto-temporal dementia

This type develops due to a loss of nerve cells in the front and side areas of the brain. 

Mixed dementia

A senior may have two types of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia. It can be challenging to tell when this happens, but the odds of developing more than one type of dementia increase as a senior gets closer to 80 years old. 

Reversible dementia

A senior may have developed dementia due to the medication they were taking, a hormone imbalance, heart and lung problems, poisoning, or vitamin deficiency. When this happens, after a senior stops taking the medication or treats the cause of their dementia, it will go away. 


Some treatment choices for dementia are the same as those used in Alzheimer’s residents. For instance, sleeping medications, antidepressants, and antipsychotics help with insomnia, anxiety, depression, and hallucinations. 

Treatments that are more specific to dementia than Alzheimer’s disease include: 

  • Quitting a drug 
  • Not drinking alcohol
  • Removing a tumor
  • Treating a vitamin B12 deficiency 
  • Controlling blood sugar
  • Taking or changing the dose of a thyroid medication

Seven stages

Like Alzheimer’s there can be different stages of dementia that tell how advanced the senior’s condition is.

Stage 1: No cognitive decline

Stage 2: Very mild cognitive decline

Stage 3: Mild cognitive decline

Stage 4: Moderate cognitive decline

Stage 5: Moderately severe cognitive decline

Stage 6: Severe cognitive decline

Stage 7: Very severe cognitive decline

The right time to seek memory care

If your senior loved one is having difficulty taking care of daily tasks on their own and becoming more forgetful, memory care may be a great option. While many seniors would prefer to age at home, the development of a memory disease makes it unlikely that they can do this safely. 

As seniors with memory loss progress through the stages of their disease, they will begin to forget familiar faces and even their face looking back at them from a mirror. This can be frightening and confusing to a senior. 

Fortunately, the staff at memory care communities are trained to help seniors remain calm and feel more at ease. 

Benefits of a memory care community setting 

There are benefits to transitioning your senior loved one to a memory care community. Memory care communities like Kensington Place Redwood City offer around-the-clock assistance and nurses on-site. 

Your senior loved one can receive psychological and psychiatric services when needed and join in on small-group activities. The small group size and the option to choose activities based on their interests make activities more enjoyable to residents. 

Seniors and their families also have the opportunity to join support groups and participate in family nights. While this is beneficial for seniors, it is also beneficial for their spouses and children, allowing them to bond and maintain a relationship.

The chef ensures that its residents receive the proper nutrition at a memory care community and can accommodate special diets if your loved one has diabetes, a gluten allergy, or is a vegetarian. 

Specialized care at Kensington Place Redwood City

At Kensington Place Redwood City, we offer advanced memory care so our residents can age in a community where all their comfort needs are met. With our two cozy memory care neighborhoods, your senior loved one will receive the appropriate level of expert care from our compassionate and highly trained staff. 

Our promise is to love and care for your family as we do our own. 

This is why we provide one-on-one attention, life-enrichment activities, health and wellness programs, and security features to keep your loved one healthy and safe.

Contact us to learn more about our assisted living and memory care communities and how we can best support you in moving a loved one to a community setting.

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