Although the two conditions are similar, Alzheimer’s and dementia are not the same thing. In fact, one is actually a subset of the other.

Alzheimer’s and dementia: What’s the difference?

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Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are words no one wants to hear — about themselves or someone they love. But when they do, they may not fully understand the difference between the two.

Although the two conditions are similar, Alzheimer’s and dementia are not the same thing. In fact, one is actually a subset of the other.

Generally occurring in seniors, dementia is a group of symptoms that interferes with thinking, behavior and social functioning. Alzheimer’s is a specific type of dementia, and though it’s the most common, it’s far from the only one.

A number of different dementia types exist, each with different symptoms, explains the Alzheimer’s Association. Here’s a comprehensive list and explanation of dementia types.

Alzheimer’s Disease

An early symptom of Alzheimer’s is slight memory loss, such as difficulty remembering names or events. This may accompanied by feelings of depression or apathy.

As it progresses, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, other symptoms can be:

  • Disorientation
  • Confusion
  • Changes in behavior 
  • Certain basic functions like walking, speaking and swallowing

Though there is currently no medication or cure for Alzheimer’s, an early diagnosis allows management of the symptoms, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Vascular Dementia

Less common than Alzheimer’s, vascular dementia alone is responsible for about 10 percent of dementia cases, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Symptoms of vascular dementia are a decreased ability to make decisions, organize or plan, which can eventually lead to memory loss and trouble doing every day activities.

Vascular dementia can be caused by a stroke or conditions that damage blood vessels and deprive the brain of oxygen, according to the National Stroke Association.

Risk factors for vascular dementia are the same as those that contribute to a risk of heart disease and stroke, reports the Alzheimer’s Association.

These include:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Smoking

Dementia With Lewy Bodies

Those who have dementia with Lewy bodies will often have similar memory loss symptoms to Alzheimer’s, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, but also show these early symptoms:

  • Trouble sleeping 
  • Hallucinations
  • Parkinsonian-type movement problems

The name Lewy bodies comes from Friederich Lewy, who discovered the protein deposits that interfere with the brain’s functioning, according to the Lewy Body Dementia Foundation.

Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s often shows up as a problem with movement. As it continues, it can start to show symptoms similar to those in Alzheimer’s or dementia with Lewy bodies.

Common symptoms, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, may include:

  • Changes in memory, concentration and judgment
  • Trouble interpreting visual information ● Visual hallucinations
  • Delusions, especially paranoid ideas

There is no cure for Parkinson’s, but treatment through medication and surgery can help manage its symptoms. Neurologists who specialize in Parkinson’s can accurately diagnose and treat it.

Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD)

A rare disease that progresses rapidly, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease causes coordination and memory problems as well as behavior changes, explains the Alzheimer’s Association.

A well-known form of the disease targets cattle and is colloquially known as mad cow disease. However, it’s possible for it to be transmitted to people.

Huntington’s Disease

Caused by a defective gene, this is a progressive disease that causes involuntary movements, decline in thinking and mood changes, says the Alzheimer’s Association.

Huntington’s is passed on from parent to child, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

A child of a parent with Huntington’s has a 50 percent chance of having the gene, which means the child will eventually have the disease. Testing is available for the disease before symptoms start.

Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome

Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome is a chronic memory disorder brought on by a serious thiamine vitamin deficiency.

When thiamine levels are too low, the brain doesn’t generate sufficient energy and can’t work properly. It is most often caused by alcohol abuse, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Its major symptom is serious memory loss, though the patient may not otherwise be badly affected.