Alzheimer’s and Dementia

by Tonya Edelman, MSW

What’s the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia? The two terms are often used interchangeably, but there is a difference. Think of dementia as an umbrella that covers all types of cognitive decline, and Alzheimer’s disease as one of the many types of disorders that is under the umbrella.

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, and the Alzheimer’s Foundation states that up to 64% of all dementias are due to Alzheimer’s. But Alzheimer’s is often diagnosed after other types of dementia have been ruled out, as the disease can only be definitively diagnosed with a post-mortem autopsy on the brain. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) defines dementia as “an overall decline in intellectual function, including difficulties with language, simple calculations, planning and judgment, and motor skills, as well as loss of memory.” Dementia can be caused by nearly forty different diseases and conditions. The Encyclopedia of Mind Disorders lists various types of dementia as follows:

Primary dementias are characterized by damage to or wasting away of the brain tissue itself. They include Alzheimer’s disease (AD), frontal lobe dementia (FLD), and Pick’s disease. FLD is dementia caused by a disorder (usually genetic) that affects the front portion of the brain, and Pick’s disease is a rare type of primary dementia that is characterized by a progressive loss of social skills, language, and memory, leading to personality changes and sometimes loss of moral judgment.

Other forms of dementia:

  • Multi-infarct dementia (MID) or vascular dementia is caused by blood clots in the small blood vessels of the brain. When the clots cut off the blood supply to the brain tissue, the brain cells are damaged and may die.
  • Lewy body dementia. Lewy bodies are areas of injury found on damaged nerve cells in certain parts of the brain. They are associated with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, but researchers do not yet know whether dementia with Lewy bodies is a distinct type of dementia or a variation of Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease.
  • Dementia related to alcoholism or exposure to heavy metals.
  • Dementia related to infectious diseases. These infections may be caused by HIV, viral encephalitis, Lyme disease, syphilis, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, etc.
  • Dementia related to abnormalities in the structure of the brain. These may include a buildup of spinal fluid in the brain, tumors, or blood collecting beneath the membrane that covers the brain.
  • Depressive Pseudodementia is a syndrome seen in older people in which they exhibit symptoms consistent with dementia but the cause is actually depression.

Another condition, called “delirium,” is a temporary state of confusion. It is common for an older adult in an unfamiliar situation to exhibit what appears to be dementia but gradually clears after a short period of time. Delirium may also be associated with depression, low levels of thyroid hormone, or niacin or vitamin B12 deficiency, and is often remedied with medical treatment.

We support the Alzheimer’s Association in their efforts to treat and cure dementia through fundraisers such as the Forget Me Not ball and the Walk To End Alzheimer’s. We also provide education on issues like Alzheimer’s and dementia by providing seminars and workshops to help identify choices for Alzheimer’s treatments. And our care providers are trained to deal with patients who suffer from dementia, and we make certain that they provide the caring, respectful service that these patients deserve.

If you have an elderly loved one suffering from any form of dementia, Always Best Care can help. Our care providers are trained to assist with all forms of dementia, or, if placement in a community is required, we know the options that are available and can help you make the best choice for your senior in need. We suggest you contact us at (803) 403 1895 for more information, or email our Care Coordinator, Kayleigh Kemmy, at [email protected]. You can also visit us on the web at

Tonja Edelman, MSW, is a Franchise Operations Trainer at Always Best Care Senior Services, and a former Deputy Public Conservator.