Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe physical changes in the brain that result in difficulties remembering, controlling emotions, communicating and performing routine activities. Alzheimer’s disease is a specific diagnosable type of dementia.
The primary difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s is that dementia is a syndrome – which is best described as a group of symptoms that do not have a specific diagnosis – while Alzheimer’s is a disease.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, accounting for more than half of all cases of dementia.1
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There are several types of dementia, including:
It’s possible to have multiple types of dementia at once, which is a condition known as “mixed dementia.”
The World Health Organization estimates that around 50 million people around the world are living with at least one type of dementia.1
Dementia is more likely to occur in old age, when brain cells naturally deteriorate. Vascular diseases, strokes, depression, chronic drug use and infections such as HIV are also known causes of dementia.
Alzheimer’s occurs when protein deposits form tangles and clusters of plaques in the brain, much like a cavity forms on a tooth. The cells affected by these buildups begin to die, and the brain can even begin to shrink as a result.
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease include:
Other types of dementia may include some of these same symptoms.
Alzheimer’s is a progressive brain disease that causes gradual impairment of memory and overall cognitive function. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s, and the exact cause of the disease remains unknown.
Alzheimer’s generally affects people over the age of 60, although younger people can be affected as well. The Alzheimer’s Association estimates nearly 6 million people in the U.S. are living with Alzheimer’s.2
Alzheimer’s is most often treated with medications (some of which may be covered by a Medicare Advantage plan that covers prescription drugs).
Alternative remedies such as using coconut oil and fish oil, as well as eating a Mediterranean diet, can also be used to help prevent and slow the symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
The lifespan of someone with Alzheimer’s is typically between four and eight years after diagnosis, though some people can live for up to 20 years following diagnosis.
People with Alzheimer’s can often benefit from a Medicare Special Needs Plan (SNP). A Special Needs Plan is a type of Medicare Advantage plan with a set of benefits that is specifically designed around the needs of a particular condition, such as Alzheimer’s.
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This article is for informational purposes only. It is not healthcare advice. Speak to your doctor or healthcare provider about your specific healthcare needs.
1 World Health Organization. Dementia. (Dec. 12, 2017). Retrieved from www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/dementia.
2 Alzheimer’s Association. 2019 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures. Retrieved from www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/facts-figures.
Christian Worstell is a senior Medicare and health insurance writer with MedicareAdvantage.com. He is also a licensed health insurance agent. Christian is well-known in the insurance industry for the thousands of educational articles he’s written, helping Americans better understand their health insurance and Medicare coverage.
Christian’s work as a Medicare expert has appeared in several top-tier and trade news outlets including Forbes, MarketWatch, WebMD and Yahoo! Finance.
Christian has written hundreds of articles for MedicareAvantage.com that teach Medicare beneficiaries the best practices for navigating Medicare. His articles are read by thousands of older Americans each month. By better understanding their health care coverage, readers may hopefully learn how to limit their out-of-pocket Medicare spending and access quality medical care.
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A current resident of Raleigh, Christian is a graduate of Shippensburg University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism.
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