Dementia or Alzheimer's Disease: What's the Difference?

Nov 02, 2023
Dementia or Alzheimer's Disease: What's the Difference?
You or someone you love has been diagnosed with dementia. Does that mean they have Alzheimer’s disease? Are dementia and Alzheimer’s the same thing? Can either of them be cured? If not, can medications help? Get your answers here.

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a type of cognitive impairment known as dementia. Alzheimer’s is the No. 1 cause of dementia, and the most common types of dementia include:

  • AD
  • Vascular dementia
  • Lewy body dementia
  • Frontotemporal dementia

Around the world, more than 55 million women and men live with some form of dementia. Every three seconds, another person develops dementia. 

Dementia usually becomes apparent after age 65, but early-onset dementia occurs at younger ages. Dementia develops over many years before symptoms appear.

At this point, we have no cures for any kind of dementia, including AD. However, depending on the type of dementia diagnosed, we may have treatments that slow the disease’s progression and alleviate some of the more troubling symptoms.

At Precise Research Centers, our founder, Joseph Kwentus, MD, diagnoses and treats all of the types of dementia at the Flowood, Mississippi, offices. 

He’s actively involved in enrolling adults of all ages in clinical trials to help find medications that can make the lives of dementia patients and their caregivers easier and more fulfilling. 

Do you wonder if your loved one has AD or another type of dementia? The following breakdown helps you understand each of the most common types of dementia and their treatment options. 

Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by abnormal protein buildup in the brain. For still unknown reasons, a protein called beta-amyloid 1-42 begins to clump together, forming plaques. The plaques collect between neurons (i.e., nerve cells) and disrupt cell function and communication.

Another abnormality that occurs in AD is that another type of protein, called tau, starts to collect inside the neurons. 

In healthy individuals, tau stabilizes the microtubules in the neurons that guide nutrients to feed its dendrites (i.e., branches that collect information from cells). In AD, the tau strands get tangled and harm communication between cells.

As the neurons are injured and die off, connections between them break down, causing brain regions to shrink. The result is a significant loss of brain volume and, eventually, dementia. Treatment has mostly focused on stopping or reversing amyloid plaques and tau tangles.

Vascular dementia

Vascular dementia comes from a lack of blood flow to the brain, due to abnormal or damaged blood vessels. It’s the second-most common type of dementia. Blood vessels can be damaged by:

  • Atherosclerosis
  • Blood clots
  • Stroke
  • Infection
  • High blood pressure

Lifestyle changes and medications may slow the progress of vascular dementia. Procedures that improve blood flow to the brain may also help. 

Lewy body dementia

Lewy body dementia (LBD) affects about 1 million women and men in the United States. It’s characterized by the presence of abnormal deposits of a protein called alpha-synuclein. These deposits are known as Lewy bodies. 

The Lewy bodies affect the chemicals in the brain, leading to changes in behavior, thinking, mood, and movement.

As with other forms of dementia, LBD usually starts with mild symptoms that gradually progress until patients can no longer care for themselves. Those with LBD may also have visual or nonvisual hallucinations. Medications, physical therapy, and counseling may improve quality of life for a time. 

Frontotemporal dementia

Frontotemporal dementia has been in the news lately because 68-year-old movie star Bruce Willis has been diagnosed with the disease. It’s one of the rarer forms of dementia and tends to show up earlier than AD and other forms.

One variant of frontotemporal dementia is behavioral. People with this variant undergo a progressive change in their personality and may become either apathetic or disinhibited. They may have trouble solving problems.

Another variant is primary progressive aphasia, the type that Willis has. In this variant, people gradually lose the ability to speak. 

Patients generally live only about nine years from their first symptom or five years after their first diagnosis, although the disease has usually been in progress for many years before that. Because frontotemporal dementia is relatively rare, no treatment is yet available. 

At Precise Research Centers, we conduct ongoing clinical trials for Alzheimer’s disease. If you think you have AD and may qualify for a trial, call us for a diagnosis at 601-685-3457 or book an appointment online today. 

You can also send a message to our team on the website. There’s no cost associated with being in a clinical trial.