Psychiatrist Blog

Dementia Vs Alzheimer’s Test: What Is the Difference?

nurse caring for dementia patient

Dementia is the loss of cognitive and emotional abilities that are severe enough to interfere with an individual’s daily functioning and quality of life. 

On the other hand, Alzheimer’s disease is a degenerative brain disease caused by brain changes that result from cell damage and gradually leads to dementia over time. 

Keep reading below to learn more about dementia vs Alzheimer’s test, diagnosis, and treatment.

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease

grandfather with alzheimers symptoms memory problems

Alzheimer’s Disease symptoms consist of the following:

  • Memory loss which interrupts daily life
  • Challenges in planning or solving problems
  • Difficulties completing familiar tasks
  • Confusion in regards to time or place
  • Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
  • Problems with words—in speaking or writing
  • Issues misplacing things
  • Losing the ability to retrace steps
  • Lack of judgment
  • Withdrawal from work or social activities
  • Changes in mood and personality

Symptoms of Dementia

Dementia has overlapping symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease such as:

  • Memory loss
  • Difficulties in planning or problem solving
  • Problems with language and other cognitive abilities 

Some neuropsychiatric symptoms of dementia include but are not limited to: 

  • Agitation
  • Apathy
  • Anxiety
  • Delusions
  • Depression
  • Disinhibition
  • Irritability
  • Elation
  • Hallucinations
  • Sleep or appetite changes

[Read: 10 Signs You Need Dementia Memory Test]

Causes of Alzheimer’s Disease

nurse caring for Alzheimer's patient

Alzheimer’s disease is believed to be caused by the build-up of proteins around brain cells. There are certain deposits of amyloid which form plaques around brain cells, as well as a separate tau protein that forms fibrillary tangles within brain cells. 

As brain cells are affected by these proteins you begin to see alterations within the structure and chemical nature of the brain. Certain areas of the brain will shrink which can negatively affect memory, and you will also see a decrease in neurotransmitters, such as Acetylcholine. 

A family history of Alzheimer’s disease increases the risk of an individual developing the condition. 

Causes of Dementia

Vascular dementia is the result of multiple areas of cerebral vascular disease and is most commonly seen in men with a history of hypertension or other cardiovascular risk factors. 

Frontotemporal dementia is caused by the atrophy of the frontotemporal regions of the brain which leads to neuronal loss, gliosis, and neuronal Pick’s bodies. Dementia with Lewy bodies is caused by the deposits of abnormal proteins, Lewy bodies, inside brain cells.

How To Diagnose Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease

To diagnose dementia and Alzheimer’s disease clinically, medical history will be checked from the patient and family members/friends/caretakers, along with necessary physical exam and laboratory tests (which may include blood tests and genetic tests).

During the evaluation a person may be asked to complete certain diagnostic tests, such as a mini mental status examination, to help determine the severity of their illness. 

Dementia Vs Alzheimer’s Test

dementia vs Alzheimer's test

Brain scans, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can be utilized to look for shrinkage of certain areas of the brain. Using brain scans can also help health care providers differentiate between the different types of dementia and come up with a more accurate diagnosis. 

A person suffering from vascular dementia will likely have microvascular changes seen on MRI which may be absent in a person with Alzheimer’s disease. Meanwhile, an individual with Pick’s disease (Frontotemporal dementia) will have atrophy of the frontotemporal regions of the brain which can be seen on MRI. 

Some clinicians rely on the “1-year rule” to help diagnose dementia with Lewy bodies. This rule states that if cognitive symptoms appear at the same time as, or at least one year before, movement problems, the diagnosis is dementia with Lewy bodies.

[Read more: How To Test For Dementia: Screening Guide For Dementia]

Treatment for Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia

Unfortunately, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. There are therapeutic options, however, that can help with managing the symptoms. Acetylcholinesterase inhibitors, such as Aricept (Donepezil), are commonly used to help improve cognition and slow the rate of memory loss. 

NMDA receptor antagonists, such as Namenda (Memantine), are neuroprotective and help to protect the brain cells from excessive Glutamate which may be neurotoxic. Anti-depressants, benzodiazepines, mood stabilizers, and anti-psychotics may be utilized for individuals who develop behavioral changes such as depression, anxiety, irritability, agitation, or psychosis.

senior patient smiling

If you or someone you know is showing any Alzheimer’s disease or dementia-like symptoms, especially serious memory problems, don’t hesitate to consult a physician or a psychiatrist. Early diagnosis is highly important to prevent further brain disorders.

Remember, help is always available.

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