What is the difference between Alzheimer’s, dementia, old age memory loss?

7 October, 2014

For many years it was thought that memory loss was nothing more than hardening of the arteries suffered by most people during the natural aging process. Often called “senility,” it was common to equate the behaviors of someone with Alzheimer’s as “old age senility.” At 93, my grandmother was considered “senile” and her children forced to place her in a nursing home due to erratic, odd behavior.

The question for many is: What is the difference between Alzheimer’s or dementia or “old age memory loss?”

During the last few years of her life, my grandmother spent her days wandering the halls of a nursing home searching for “her” new-born baby whose cries haunted her day and night. The baby needed to be “nursed,” my grandmother surmised, and spent many hours crying about that neglected child. That was fifty years ago. Today, we know better.

There is a difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia. In fact many things can cause dementia, but Alzheimer’s is the Number #1 cause of dementia.

Today, my grandmother might  be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and given a baby doll to end her constant search for that crying baby. Just as her daughter (my mother) was given a light-weight pocket-book to carry because she was paranoid about someone stealing her money.

Mom would loop the strap of her pocket-book over her arm and grip that purse firmly with her other hand to prevent anyone from stealing her money. The coin purse inside that pocket-book guarded 2 dollars and 25 cents but it might as well have been a million dollars because that’s the value my Mom put on that pocket-book.

Mom remembered that money long after she’d forgotten me, and she checked that purse hundreds of times a day to be certain it was still there.

And yet, my Ninety-something Uncle (Mom’s brother) is healthy and fit, both physically and mentally, and will argue against my modern day assertion that his mother (Mom’s mother and my  grandmother) could ever have suffered something as horrible asAlzheimer’s.

“She was old,” he will argue instead, “and old age made her senile and made her imagine that crying baby, nothing more.She didn’t have Alzheimer’s like Jane (my mother/his sister).” He will argue the natural aging process causes all the symptoms of Alzheimer’s too, despite the fact that he is nearing 90 without a single sign of cognitive decline. For him, set in his way, there is no Alzheimer’s, old age senility took the mind of his mother.

Thankfully, most know better, and the awareness of Alzheimer’s along with the Stages and Symptoms are readily available for anyone to find. Hopefully, the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia will be common knowledge one day soon.

With more awareness, more people will understand the basics of coping with the behaviors of the Alzheimer’s patient. “You can’t force someone with Alzheimer’s to remember something just because you want them to. You must change yourself, accept the loss of their memories and build on what they do know.”

With awareness new research studies will find better ways to diagnose and new medicines will be prescribed earlier, to delay symptoms for those who suffer.


Is it Old age or Dementia or Alzheimer’s?

That question can actually be answered simply–

  • As the brain ages it is not unusual to forget the name of someone, particularly if you haven’t seen them in awhile.
  • Aging can make it difficult to find the right word when speaking or writing, or hard to remember the name of an object that isn’t used often.
  • With older age, it takes longer to learn new skills or accept new ideas. It may take longer to react to things since reflexes slow down with the aging process.
  • A characteristic of the normal aging process is that general intelligence (which medical scientists call “psycho-motor functions” or “cognitive functioning”) remains normal, and reasoning abilities and judgment are not altered with aging.


Symptoms of Alzheimer’s are much more Problematic than simple lapses of memory

  • Difficulties with ordinary tasks and daily activities
  • Making Unusual decisions or acting inappropriately
  • Difficulty learning new things
  • Dependency- fear of leaving familiar surroundings suspicious of the activities of others; overly dependent

*Published 5/29 at