Is it dementia, memory loss, or Alzheimer’s?

September 7, 2019

Your father is having trouble keeping track of his bills and got lost driving to your house. You misplace your car keys and notice you’re having trouble remembering names. Your elderly neighbor is repeating the same stories over and over.

Some forgetfulness, or memory loss, is a normal part of the aging process. Normal age-related memory changes include taking a longer time to learn new information, misplacing possessions and not remembering as well.

Dementia is an umbrella term that refers to a decline in cognitive functioning – thinking, remembering and reasoning – and behavior changes that affect daily functioning. Dementia is a set of symptoms and can have a number of different causes. Just as chest pain can be caused by muscle strain, a heart attack, or even pneumonia, dementia can be caused by a variety of illnesses.

This picture shows a normal brain and a brain with Alzheimer’s disease.
This picture shows a normal brain and a brain with Alzheimer’s disease.

The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s Disease, named after Dr. Lois Alzheimer, who discovered the disease. Abnormal proteins called plaques and tangles grow in the nerve cells and the spaces between the brain cells, damaging and eventually destroying nerve cells.

The second most common cause of dementia is cardiovascular disease. Cardivascular dementia occurs when the blood supply to the brain is interrupted by a stroke or a mini-stroke.

Other causes of dementia include Lewy Body disease, which causes symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease, frontal lobe dementia, and alcoholism.

Some causes of dementia are reversible. For example medication side-effects, B-12 deficiency and depression can cause dementia or make the symptoms worse. This is why it’s important to consult a doctor about memory loss.

If you, a friend, or a family member is struggling with memory loss, Iona can help. Call our Helpline at
(202) 895-9448 or email info@iona.org to speak with a licensed social worker, who can provide information on Iona’s services, and other community resources that support people with memory loss, including their caregivers.


By Deborah Rubenstein, PhD, LICSW
Director of Client Services

Deb has been on staff at Iona for more than 20 years. She has worked as a care manager, psychotherapist, and support group facilitator, and became the Director of Iona’s Consultation, Care Management, and Counseling Services in 2005. In 2018, she became the Director of Client Services. In this role, Deb oversees a staff of social workers and nurses who provide direct support to older adults and their families, works with Iona’s Nutrition team, and leads Iona’s data and performance management initiatives. Deb also develops and presents curriculum for Iona’s Take Charge/Age Well Academy, including the Aging Solo workshop series. A former attorney, Deb holds both an MSW and PhD from the National Catholic School of Social Service at The Catholic University of America.

2 thoughts on “Is it dementia, memory loss, or Alzheimer’s?”

  1. I need to find a support group in my area. My husband is suffering memory loss and getting angry with me daily. We are arguing a lot. I’m having trouble coping . We both just turned 70. Our 50 th Anniversary is coming up in December. He seems clear at times and other times is totally confused to time and place. Thank you

    1. If you would like to speak with a professional social worker about your concerns or questions, please contact Iona’s Helpline at (202) 895-9448 or info@iona.org. Iona’s Helpline is available M-F, 9 am-5 pm. Other supports for dementia caregiving challenges are the Alzheimer’s Association (https://www.alz.org/ or the 24-hour hotline (800) 272-3900), and the elder care locator (https://eldercare.acl.gov/Public/Index.aspx). Unfortunately, we’re unable to respond to specific questions in our comment section, but are glad to see when our articles resonate with readers.

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