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Is there a difference in care for Alzheimer's and dementia?

Is there a difference in care for Alzheimer's and dementia?

Are you curious about the difference between Alzheimer’s and Dementia care?

Maybe you or someone you know has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer or Dementia and you are wondering what that means?


To begin, Alzheimer’s and dementia seem similar, but it is important to know that they are not the same. Alzheimer’s is a disease, while dementia is a group of symptoms.

Generally, a decline in one’s mental ability that affects their ability to live their daily life is labeled dementia.

Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia at around 70%. Both Alzheimer’s and dementia negatively affect a person’s cognitive abilities, especially those involving memory, reasoning, focus, and higher executive functioning. Distinguishing between the two can be confusing. Often times symptoms of the two conditions are the same, however, knowing the difference is essential for treatment. We will discuss key differences as well as their similarities to help you gain a better understanding.

Alzheimer’s is a degenerative brain disease that has no cure and worsens over time. The deteriorating brain changes are what leads to dementia.

Causes of Dementia

A decline in one’s mental capability is generally termed dementia. More specifically, this decline inhibits their ability to complete regular tasks that in turn disrupt their daily life. This could be a subtle but noticeable decline in hygiene or forgetfulness such as the inability to keep up with household bills, that they once had no issue controlling.

Medically, dementia is the disruption of blood and oxygen flow to the brain. This causes damage to the brains cells and interfere with different parts of the brain that affect function. Damage could be from disease, injury, or brain tumors for example. The impairment mostly impacts the part of the brain called the cerebral cortex. This area of the brain is responsible for controlling language, memory, consciousness, and perception.

Common reasons for dementia symptoms include: 

  • Stroke or multiple mini-stokes
  • Atherosclerosis (vascular dementia)
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Huntington’s disease
  • Lewy-body Dementia
  • Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome
  • Head injury
  • Alcoholism
  • Severe Infection

As you can see, there are many different types of dementia. The main cause being Alzheimer’s which is a degenerative disease and there currently is no cure. In most cases of dementia the damage is irreversible but some forms are treatable with the right medication and supportive services. In some cases, where dementia may be reversible would be if a medical problem responds to treatment. For example, a stroke victim may experience temporary, not permanent, signs of dementia if they receive thrombolytic therapy within an hour of having the stroke. 

Parkinson’s and Huntington’s do not interfere with blood flow to the brain. Instead, these are genetic disorders that cause brain cells to die in certain areas of the brain. People with Parkinson’s often develop Lewy-body dementia as proteins accumulate on and damage neurons. Wernick-Korsakoff dementia only affects long-term alcoholics who suffer from a severe thiamine deficiency. In some cases, Wernick-Korsakoff is reversible with aggressive treatment methods. 

Signs of Dementia

Different conditions can cause damage to brain cells affecting one’s ability to think, feel, and behave. Depending on the medical reason for dementia, this disease can remain mild and manageable for many years or it could progress rapidly enough to necessitate seeking in-home care for your family member. The prognosis will be determined by your loved one’s doctors.

Dementia causes cognitive, psychological and physical problems such as: 

  • Forgetting the names of close family members and friends 
  • Misplacing/losing items 
  • Incontinence 
  • Reduced muscle control/muscle tone (the person may start walking more slowly, taking steps one step at a time, lose balance, fall more frequently) 
  • Disorientation/getting lost in familiar places such as their regular grocery store
  • Forgetting how to cook meals or use common appliances needed to prepare meals 
  • Making poor decisions/inability to use good judgement 
  • Delusional thinking 
  • Having visual and/or audible hallucinations 
  • Neglecting personal hygiene 
  • Changes in personality (increasing irritability, aggressiveness, mood swings and paranoia) 


Diagnosing dementia and the specific type of dementia can be challenging even for the most skilled medical professional. There is no single test that can determine if a person has dementia. The diagnosis involves a doctor’s ability to recognize memory loss from a series of tests and questions as well as evaluating a patient’s deterioration regarding patterns of skill, tasks, and function. The doctor would likely review medical history and order a series of blood tests to determine oxygen levels in the bloodstream. Brain scans (MRIs or CTs) and neuropsychological examinations may be needed to complete an accurate diagnosis. 

How is diagnosing Alzheimer’s Different from Dementia?

During consultation if the doctor has reason to suspect their patient has Alzheimer’s, they will likely request an fMRI to be performed. This test will allow the doctor to examine if there is any damage to the brain. In Alzheimer’s, proteins in the brain begin to change years before any symptoms are apparent. The scan will provide the doctor with an image, so they are able to look for abnormal protein deposits from plaques and tangles in the brain. These plaques are hard and unusual growths that clump together between the nerve cells in the brains of Alzheimer’s disease patients and are responsible for interfering with brain cell activity.

On the other hand, if your loved one is diagnosed with dementia, their brain scans will not show the plaques and tangles indicative of Alzheimer’s. Instead, people with dementia present brain scans that typically reveal smaller than normal cortex (cortical atrophy), enlarged ventricles, and areas of insufficient/blocked blood flow. 

Signs of Alzheimer's Disease

While dementia can affect adults at any age, Alzheimer’s tends to develop in people over 60 years old. Early onset Alzheimer’s is an extremely rare form that affects adults in their 30s and 40s. However, the majority of people with Alzheimer’s will not present noticeable symptoms until they reach their mid 60s. 


Symptoms of possible Alzheimer’s disease involve: 

  • Deficits with short-term memory rather than long-term memory (they can remember the name of their first-grade teacher but not the name of a recently born grandchild) 
  • Dressing inappropriately for the weather (wearing sweaters in hot weather or wearing three pairs of socks for no apparent reason) 
  • Getting lost in familiar places 
  • Mood swings (acting depressed one day but acting exuberantly happy the next day) 
  • Rambling, incoherent speech patterns (talking without making sense to others may indicate the person is actively hallucinating) 
  • Difficulty interpreting visual images (pictures with multiple people, signs and colors) 
  • Difficulty solving simple problems (what to do if water is spilled on the floor or their remote stops working because they need to replace old batteries) 
  • Putting objects in “wrong” places (wallets in refrigerators, cereal boxes in the bathtub, etc.) 
  • Neglecting household cleaning and personal hygiene tasks 


Some people with Alzheimer’s may become increasingly combative as the disease progresses. They may argue about something that you can actually prove to them (the temperature outside, for example) or deny putting a bar of soap in the refrigerator when, in fact, you watched them do it. Although it can be frustrating and upsetting to cope with a loved one with Alzheimer’s, understand that they feel frightened during the early and middle stages of Alzheimer’s disease because they know something is wrong with them and cannot control symptoms. 

Our Alzheimer’s and dementia care services will provide you some relief. In addition to our services, there are many online or in-person support groups for those diagnosed with the disease and their loved ones caring for them. You are not alone, and we are here to help.

CareFirst offers personalized Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care

If you have a family member or friend who is showing signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s, the first thing to do is have a talk with them about your concerns. The most important factor in lengthening their quality of life is early intervention. Suggest to your loved one they see their doctor about the changes in their life. Their doctor can determine if they need to perform any medical tests in order to provide a professional diagnosis. Depending on whether your loved one is diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s, the diagnosis will determine what kind of long-term care they may need as the disease progresses.

Treating Dementia vs. Treating Alzheimer's

People with irreversible dementia may benefit from taking prescription and homeopathic medications. It is certainly a benefit to continue to live as healthy and active a lifestyle as possible. CareFirst can help with doctors’ appointments, medication reminders, healthy meal planning, personal companionship, and more. Our Skilled Care services also offer cognitive stimulation therapy that can help people with mild to moderate symptoms of dementia by “exercising” the brain. Memory, language and problem-solving activities are part of an individualized cognitive stimulation therapy program provided by a medical professional. 

Supportive, in-home care for people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s is recommended by healthcare professionals to maintain the highest quality of life for patients who do not need intensive medical care. At CareFirst we provide supportive, in-home care. We understand the difficulty in navigating needs of an Alzheimer’s and dementia patient, some of us more personally. Please know we are here to help and offer our services because we truly understand and care.

CareFirst of Birmingham AL provides experienced, compassionate Alzheimer’s and dementia care services for loved ones needing assistance with daily living activities. We also offer 24/7 supervision and nursing care to give you peace of mind knowing your loved one is safe and cared for in their own home. 

Call today for more information about our certified caregiving services. 

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