What is the Difference between Alzheimer’s and Dementia?


Many times you hear people use Alzheimer’s and dementia interchangeably, but they are not the same. Dementia is a description of a group of symptoms, while Alzheimer’s is a specific disease. Many diseases or conditions can cause dementia. Alzheimer’s is the most common — with 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases due to Alzheimer’s.

“Dementia is a word used by most people to describe a group of symptoms that impact the loss of memory,” says Dr. Ty Brown, St. Elizabeth Healthcare Neurologist. “Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that causes loss of memory and other functions. Today, the cause is not known, and there is no cure. But we work with patients to make lifestyle changes to keep them independent as long as possible.”

Maintaining quality of life with Alzheimer’s
Several treatments for Alzheimer’s are available, but no magic wand can make it disappear. Research is being conducted every day to find a cure for the 5 million Americans living with the disease.

In addition to medications, most patients will benefit from occupational therapy. The key to living with Alzheimer’s is maintaining a quality of life and preserving dignity for both the person suffering from the disease and their caregivers.

“Every person living with Alzheimer’s is unique,” says Christina Allen, OTR-L, occupational therapist at St. Elizabeth Healthcare. “We look at each patient to determine which of the six stages of the disease they may be in and determine what their needs are today. We want to make sure they maintain a quality of life, for as long as possible.”

The occupational therapy team may assist with teaching or adapt how to:

  • Get the right amount of daily nutrition, including water.
  • Managing toileting issues.
  • Maintain personal hygiene.
  • Dress and perform daily functions.

Making the job of living a success for the patient and the caregivers
Those with Alzheimer’s and their family members face daily fears that they will stop recognizing faces and forget how to do simple things they’ve done for decades.

Allen recommends creating a memory book. Unlike a scrapbook, a memory book is used to remind the person with Alzheimer’s how they like to do things and can include special memories and photos of the people they love.

“We work with families to write down steps of how their loved one with Alzheimer’s completes daily tasks,” says Allen. “Like a recipe card for how they make their morning cup of coffee or prepare for bedtime.”

The memory book can help someone living with Alzheimer’s find comfort and peace in simple tasks, and they may find them familiar, even though they can’t always remember the next step.

To schedule an appointment for an evaluation in St. Elizabeth Healthcare’s Neurology department call (859) 957-0052.