What is the Difference Between Alzheimer’s and Dementia?

Serious Senior Man With Adult Daughter At Home

Recently, Gina’s mother told her the devastating news that her Uncle Jack had been diagnosed with dementia. When Gina’s husband got home from work, she quickly told him about her uncle’s “Alzheimer’s” diagnosis. Gina, her mother, and her husband began using the terms “dementia” and “Alzheimer’s” interchangeably, as if they meant the same thing, where in reality they do not. And, in the case of Jack, he actually was diagnosed with vascular dementia, which is quite different than Alzheimer’s disease.

Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease may share many of the same symptoms, but the two are not different names for the same condition. Alzheimer’s is actually one of the four most prevalent forms of dementia. Here’s what you need to know about the main forms of dementia (including Alzheimer’s) in order for you to avoid this common mistake:


The term “dementia” is used to describe a set of symptoms that can include memory loss, difficulty thinking, problem solving, or issues with language. Dementia is caused by damage to the brain cells. Because Alzheimer’s is a disease that destroys the brain, it is one of the most common forms of dementia.

These are the other most prevalent types of dementia:

Vascular Dementia

● It is also known as “multi-infarct dementia” or “post-stroke dementia.”
● It is the second most common type of dementia.
● Main symptoms often include memory loss, impaired judgment, a decreased ability to plan, and loss of motivation.
● The cause is often bleeding within the brain from a stroke or multiple mini strokes (TIAs) that cause brain damage.
● Vascular dementia cannot be cured, but people who have the ailment are treated to prevent further brain injury from the underlying cause of the ailment. Numerous medication and therapies may be used to help manage the symptoms.

Lewy Body Dementia

● It is also known as “cortical Lewy body disease” or “diffuse Lewy body disease.”
● It is the third most common type of dementia.
● Main symptoms often include sleep problems, memory loss, hallucinations, and frequent swings in alertness.
● The cause is Lewy bodies –abnormal proteins that appear in nerve cells and impair functioning.
● There is no known treatment to reverse Lewy body dementia or address its underlying cellular cause but,  as with other the other main types of dementia, a wide array of therapies and treatment are used to improve the patient’s quality of life and alleviate symptoms.

Frontotemporal Dementia

● It is fairly rare, but believed to be the fourth most common type of dementia.
● Frontotemporal dementia is marked more by behavioral and emotional changes than by cognitive impairment. In fact, memory is preserved in people with frontotemporal dementia.
● Main symptoms often include decreased inhibition (frequently leading to inappropriate behavior, apathy and loss of motivation, decreased empathy, repetitive or compulsive behaviors, and anxiety and depression.
● Frontotemporal dementia occurs when the frontal or temporal lobes of the brain are damaged or shrink.
● Frontotemporal dementia cannot be cured or reversed, but doctors will use medicines to treat uncomfortable or problematic symptoms.

Other Causes of Dementia

Just about any condition that causes damage to the brain or nerve cells can cause dementia. For example, people with Parkinson’s disease will often exhibit dementia in the later stages of their illness. Huntington’s disease, Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease, and alcoholism can all lead to irreversible cognitive impairment / dementia.

Alzheimer’s Disease

As explained, Alzheimer’s is just one form of dementia –the most common one, with as many as 50 to 70% of all dementia cases being caused by Alzheimer’s.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s Disease is caused when high levels of certain proteins inside and outside brain cells make it hard for brain cells to stay healthy and to communicate with each other. This leads to the loss of connections between nerve cells, and eventually to the death of nerve cells and loss of brain tissue.

Those with Alzheimer’s often experience memory loss that continues to get worse as the disease progresses, confusion, difficulty communicating, anxiety , and paranoia.

There are currently both pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical therapies which can temporarily increase functioning and improve the spirits of the person with Alzheimer’s disease, but no treatment has proven to be effective. The Alzheimer’s Association says, “At this time there is no treatment to cure, delay or stop the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.” However, the U.S. government has made Alzheimer’s research a high priority and set the optimistic goal of finding a cure by 2025. Vigorous research continues and numerous possible treatments are being investigated.

Think you or a loved one have Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia?

Doctors can accurately diagnose Alzheimer’s or symptoms of one of the other forms of dementia in 90% of cases. If you know someone who appears to be losing mental abilities to a degree that interferes with daily activities and social interactions, consult a doctor right away. As you can see from the details above, there are some medications and treatments that may help manage some of the symptoms, so it’s important to seek help as soon as possible.

Persons with Alzheimer’s disease and their families face special legal and financial needs. Controlling the high costs of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s, and navigating the emotionally and physically demanding requirements of caregiving, require the assistance of a highly skilled and specialized expert in the field of Alzheimer’s Planning.

At Farr Law Firm, P.C., we are dedicated to easing the financial and emotional burden on those suffering from dementia and their loved ones.  We help protect the family’s hard-earned assets while maintaining your loved one’s comfort, dignity, and quality of life by ensuring eligibility for critical government benefits such as Medicaid and Veterans Aid and Attendance. Please call us as soon as possible to make an appointment for a consultation:

Fairfax Alzheimer’s Planning: 703-691-1888
Fredericksburg Alzheimer’s Planning: 540-479-1435
Rockville Alzheimer’s Planning: 301-519-8041
DC Alzheimer’s Planning: 202-587-2797

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.