The terms dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are often used interchangeably. However, the Alzheimer’s Association notes it is important to understand the subtle distinctions that make dementias unique.

What is dementia?

Dementia is a general term that refers to a decline in mental ability that’s severe enough to interfere with a person’s daily life. There are many types of dementia, which describes a group of symptoms associated with a decline in memory, reasoning or other thinking skills. Types of dementias can include vascular dementia, frontotemporal dementia, Lewy Body dementia, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, among others.

What is Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is a degenerative brain disease caused by complex changes in the brain after its cells have been damaged. The Alzheimer’s Association notes that Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, accounting for 60% to 80% of cases. Symptoms tend to gradually worsen over time.

What are the symptoms of dementia?

Most types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, affect memory and thinking skills. However, depending on the dementia classification, they manifest themselves in different ways. Before doctors can diagnose a type of dementia, they must see that at least two of the following core mental functions are significantly impaired:

• Memory

• Communication and language

• Ability to focus and pay attention

• Reasoning and judgment

• Visual perception

People with dementia may struggle with short-term memory and everyday tasks like paying bills, cooking for themselves and remembering appointments.

Alzheimer’s disease in particular causes a slow decline in memory, thinking and reasoning skills. Alzheimer’s symptoms can sometimes be mistaken for normal signs of aging. However, the Alzheimer’s Association urges people who notice any of these 10 early signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease to report them to their physicians immediately.

• Memory loss that disrupts daily life

• Challenges in planning or solving problems

• Difficulty completing familiar tasks

• Confusion with time or place

• Trouble understanding visual images or spatial relationships

• New problems with words in speaking or writing

• Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps

• Decreased or poor judgment

• Withdrawal from work or social activities

• Changes in mood or personality

Any changes in memory, communication and cognition should be addressed by a professional. There are subtle distinctions between dementias, and getting a diagnosis right early on can help doctors design an effective treatment plan. Learn more at


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