According to the World Health Organization, 47 million people are living with dementia worldwide. While dementia and Alzheimer’s disease share similar characteristics regarding symptoms, there are notable differences between the two that should be looked at closely in order to understand early onset symptoms.
Dementia is an umbrella term for symptoms like impaired memory and thinking that interferes with daily living, while Alzheimer’s disease is a specific type of dementia. Other types of dementia include vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies, front temporal dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and Huntington’s disease.
For most patients who have dementia, there is a 60-70 percent chance they have Alzheimer’s, as it is the most common type of dementia. Alzheimer’s is also talked about more because there are more medical advancements for that disease compared to other forms of dementia.
The Causes of Dementia and Alzheimer’s Are Different
Medical illnesses, metabolic issues (like a nutritional or thyroid problem), vascular disease (like a stroke), or in rare cases infectious diseases can affect brain cells, ultimately causing dementia. For instance, the rare mad cow disease can contribute to dementia. As levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin begin to run low, you may have trouble concentrating and paying attention. And when you become distracted, you have trouble retaining information and remembering things, which can then manifest as dementia.
On the other hand, the origins of Alzheimer’s are different. It is a brain disease marked by deposits of beta-amyloid plaques called tau that are known to damage cells in the brain regions that control memory, reasoning, and thinking.
Factors at Play
There are also multiple conditions that unite and cause dementia, referred to as mixed dementia. Most of the time, patients who have Alzheimer’s disease also have a vascular disease that may worsen cognitive symptoms. Alzheimer’s and dementia with Lewy bodies (a disease that causes the formation of alpha-synuclein protein development in the brain) have also been found to occur jointly.
The Symptoms Can Be SimilarRelated: 11 Predictors of Alzheimer’s You Didn’t See Coming
Being forgetful can be a basic memory problem, so how do you know when it crosses the line and becomes dementia or Alzheimer’s? According to the Alzheimer’s Association, to be diagnosed with dementia, two of the following areas of functioning must be severely impaired: memory, communication, and language, ability to focus and pay attention, reasoning, judgment, and visual perception. For Alzheimer’s disease, the association states that forgetting new information or constantly asking family members to remind you of important facts you should be able to keep track of yourself is a common symptom. Research has also shown that difficulty using a map can be one of the earliest warning signs of Alzheimer’s.