Many people use the terms Alzheimer's disease and dementia interchangeably, but they have very different meanings. Although dementia is a group of symptoms that include memory loss, the term itself doesn't explain what is causing the symptoms. Alzheimer's disease is the leading cause of dementia, but here are many other causes.
Dementia is a general term for memory loss that is severe enough to interfere with daily life. The signs of dementia may include forgetfulness, difficulty making plans, thinking ahead, or using language, as well as changing character traits, among other symptoms. Alzheimer's disease accounts for 50 to 80 percent of dementia cases according to the Alzheimer's Association, but there are other causes, including vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, frontotemporal dementia, and Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome.
Alzheimer's disease is a partially hereditary disease that causes a loss of brain cells. The symptoms start out mild but grow progressively worse over time. There is no cure, but there are medications that can treat the symptoms and slow the disease's progress. An early symptom of Alzheimer's is difficulty learning new information. It can then progress to more severe symptoms such as forgetting names and places, disorientation, mood and behavior changes, and an inability to relate to others. Eventually, it can lead to the inability to talk, walk, or eat.
Dementia, whether caused by Alzheimer's disease or some other underlying disease, is not a normal part of aging. If someone you know is exhibiting signs of dementia, they should get immediate medical attention to understand what is causing it. As the dementia progresses, people often lose the ability to care for themselves and may need assistance with the activities of daily living such as eating, taking medication, bathing and getting dressed. In many cases, it becomes unsafe for the person with dementia to be alone, resulting in the need for care at home, in an assisted living facility or nursing home.