What is the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s disease?

Dementia is caused by different diseases that affect the brain. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common of these diseases. Some other common types of dementia include vascular dementia and dementia with Lewy bodies.

This means that dementia is not a disease in its own right. Dementia is the name for a group of symptoms that commonly include problems with memory, thinking, problem solving, language and perception.

While there is a relationship between dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, there are key differences between the two.

What is dementia?

When a person receives a dementia diagnosis they should also learn what type of dementia they have. This is not always the case, and sometimes the term 'dementia' is used to describe the symptoms they may be experiencing. These symptoms might include memory loss or difficulties with language or concentration.

Dementia is caused by diseases which damage the brain by causing a loss of nerve cells. Alzheimer’s disease is one specific cause of dementia (and the most common). Some other causes of dementia include:

  • Vascular dementia, where a lack of oxygen to the brain causes nerve cells to die. This can be caused by a stroke, a series of mini strokes or a disease of the small blood vessels in the brain
  • Mixed dementia, where someone has more than one type of dementia and a mix of symptoms
  • Dementia with Lewy bodies, where abnormal structures – Lewy bodies – form in the brain and cause the death of nerve cells
  • Frontotemporal dementia, where clumps of abnormal protein form in front and side parts of the brain and cause the death of nerve cells.

The symptoms that someone with dementia experiences depends on the damaged parts of the brain and the disease causing the dementia. Dementia is progressive which means it will get worse over time.

Listen to our helpsheet for a summary of the important information you might need to know about dementia.

What is Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is a physical disease that affects the brain. Abnormal structures called ‘plaques’ and ‘tangles’ build up inside the brain. These disrupt how nerve cells work and communicate with each other, and eventually cause them to die.

There is also a shortage of some important chemicals in the brain of someone with Alzheimer’s disease. Reduced levels of these chemicals mean that messages don’t travel around as well as they should.

Alzheimer’s disease usually begins gradually with mild memory loss. The person may have difficulty recalling recent events or learning new information. Other symptoms may include difficulties finding the right words, solving problems, making decisions, or perceiving things in three dimensions.

As Alzheimer’s progresses, problems with memory loss, communication, reasoning and orientation become more severe. The person will need more day-to-day support from those who care for them.

There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. However, treatments may temporarily ease some symptoms or slow down their progression in some people.

Does Alzheimer’s Society support people with dementia, as well as Alzheimer’s disease?

Yes, we do! Find out how Alzheimer's Society can support you.

Until the day we find a cure, we’re striving to improve the lives of those affected by Alzheimer’s disease and all kinds of dementia.

Dementia Connect support line
Our dementia advisers are here for you.
Talking Point
Visit our online community to get advice, share experiences, connect.

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My brother was diagnosed with vascular dementia 3 years ago when he was just 68. I always blamed his heavy smoking, not sure if it is related. He is now in a nursing home, it must be awful to lose your home, your independence. His personality has totally changed, from a gentle soul to a very aggressive person. I don't know of anybody else in the family who has had it, and from what I have researched it isn't hereditary. Can the smoking have caused it? Is it hereditary? I am the only person he has, nobody else bothers with him. Not sure why I am writing this, just offloading I think.

Hello Jenny,

We're sorry to hear about your brother's vascular dementia diagnosis.

The causes of dementia are complex, and researchers are working to understand this more clearly. Although was can't say what causes dementia, we know that certain things can increase a person's risk of dementia. We have some information about risk factors for vascular dementia on our website: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/about-dementia/types-dementia/risk-factor…

If you would like more dementia information, advice, or support, please call our Dementia connect support line on 0333 150 3456. More details of the support line (including opening hours) are available here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementia-connect-support-line

We hope this helps,

Alzheimer's Society website team

How do I deal with / what do I do say when my mum who has mixed dementia, and is confused of where she is, thinks she’s on holiday and waiting to be picked up, packs things in bags because she thinks she’s going on holiday, things like fruit, butterfish, cello tape,

Hi Delia,

It sounds like you might benefit from joining our online community, Talking Point, where people affected by dementia can share their experiences and ask each other questions. You can browse the conversations within the community or sign up for free: https://forum.alzheimers.org.uk

We hope this helps.

Alzheimer's Society blog team

My wife would appear to be suffering from dementia but has never been diagnosed She contacted covid 14 months ago and had a mild stroke 12 months ago our GP is fully aware of her situation How do I go about getting her diagnosed to confirm what type she is suffering from She has also been diagnosed with breast cancer 2 years ago in June 2020

Hi Percy,

Thanks for your comment, and sorry to hear that your wife is displaying symptoms of dementia.

It's great that you've already spoken to your GP. They may decide that your wife should be assessed for dementia - you can find more information about this process on our website: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/about-dementia/symptoms-and-diagnosis/dia…

If your wife has not been assessed and you think that she should be, then you may find it helpful to speak with one of our dementia advisers. They will be able to learn more about your situation and give advice. You can call our Dementia Connect support line on 0333 150 3456. More details (including opening hours) are available here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementia-connect-support-line

I hope this is helpful, Percy. Wishing you all the best.

Alzheimer's Society website team

My mum has just been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s today - she only 74 abs has survived Pancreatic cancer she is a walking miracle- why is life so cruel with her getting this ?
No idea how to manage this - I support her with medication and shopping etc - so worried how it will progress

Hi Pauline,

We are very sorry to learn about your mother's diagnosis. This must be such a worrying time for you and your family. Please know that you aren't alone, and we are here for you.

We'd recommend calling our Dementia Connect support line on 0333 150 3456 and speaking with one of our dementia advisers. They can answer any questions you might have and provide dementia information and support. More details about the support line (including opening hours) are available here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementia-connect-support-line

Our advisers can also provide you with any reading material that you might find helpful. We have lots of publications and factsheets about dementia - you can download and read online versions, or request copies of resources in the post: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/publications-factsheets/full-…

In particular, you might be interested in our booklet Caring for a person with dementia: A practical guide. The information in this booklet is here to support you to care for the person with dementia and to look after yourself: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/publications-factsheets/carin…

You might also find it useful to speak to other people who are going through similar situations within our online community, Talking Point. Here, carers and other people affected by dementia share their experiences and offer each other support and advice. It's open day or night, and free to use. Read more about the community, or register to join the conversation: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/dementia-talking-point-our-on…

We hope this helps, Pauline. Please do call our support line if you need to speak with an adviser.

Alzheimer's Society blog team

GOD BLESS YOU AND YOUR FAMILY.

Thank you for providing this informative set of blogs related to ALZHEIMER’S, looks pretty enlightening and effective for individuals suffering from the disease. The content is best for getting information regarding the issue. I was on the look for such info.

Hello,
We haven't had a diagnosis and indeed, seeing
a doctor at this time is very difficult still.
Concerned about the deterioration of a family member of 83 years old.
Already one member of family takes her shopping and our part look after finances, bills etc. She would be unable to do this independently now. Losing weight, clearly not cooking anymore etc etc. Forgetting medication, repetition all evident.
Short term memory isn't good. So many aspects in descriptions here are ringing alarm bells.
What is our first step? Is it insisting we see a doctor?
Any guidance would be appreciated...
Thank you.

Hi Sara

We're really sorry to hear about your family member - this must be a very worrying time for you.

We would strongly recommend calling our Dementia Connect support line on 0333 150 3456. You'll be able to speak with one of our dementia advisers who will listen to your situation, and offer specific advice, information, and support.

You can find more details about the support line (including opening hours) here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementia-connect-support-line

You might also like to read through our information on diagnosis, which explains the dementia assessment processes, should you want to learn more about it: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/about-dementia/symptoms-and-diagnosis/dia…

We hope this helps, Sara. Please do call our support line for advice when you need it.

Alzheimer's Society blog team

My mum had been diagnosed with early onset dementia around 5 years ago but I am not sure if she has been diagnosed with a particular form of dementia. My father is very vague on the details and I would like to know if early onset dementia would be followed up with further test to diagnose a particular disease or do we presume it's Alzheimer's. I am very much in the dark with everything and would appreciate a little guidance. Many thanks

Hi Ceri,

Thanks for your comment, and sorry to hear about your mum's diagnosis.

We'd really recommend speaking to one of our dementia advisers for guidance on this, as it's difficult to advise without knowing a bit more information. To do this, you can call our Dementia Connect support line on 0333 150 3456

The support line is open seven days a week:

9.00am to 8.00pm Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday
9.00am to 5.00pm Thursday and Friday
10.00am to 4.00pm Saturday and Sunday.

I hope this is helpful, Ceri.

Alzheimer's Society blog team

My mum got diagnosed with vascular dementia in February this year,,, it has totally thrown my Dad, sister and me into a very scary place. My mum has people round today to say whether it is definite VD, or Alzheimer. We don't know where to go from here, My Dad looks after her he is 80 she is 77,, but we go and help clean and fo shopping and anything else My Dad needs us to do. It's hard to stay strong, as my Mum knows there is something wrong with her head but cannot put her finger on it. The good thing is, that she knows who we all are, so we just need to know who we go through to help us understand things properly, and where to get help when and if we need it, as she is ok at the minute.

Hi Jackie,

Thanks for commenting, and really sorry to hear about your mum's diagnosis.

We would strongly recommend speaking with one of our dementia advisers by calling the Dementia Connect support line on 0333 150 3456. This is a great way to get dementia information, support and advice specific to your situation. (More information about the support line, including opening times, can be found here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementia-connect-support-line)

You may also benefit from talking with other people affected by dementia within our online community, Talking Point. Feel free to browse and read others' experiences, or create an account to reply and connect with others. You may find similar situations to your mum's shared there: https://forum.alzheimers.org.uk/

We have lots of publications and information about dementia available to read online or you can order free copies in the post. A dementia adviser will be able to help you find the ones that will be most useful for you, or you can browse our full list here:
https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/publications-factsheets/full-…

Hope this is helpful for you, Jackie. Please don't hesitate to call our support line any time you need advice or support.

Take care,

Alzheimer's Society blog team

My Dad has been diagnosed with Vascular Dementia recently. I haven't seen him for awhile but would like to. What is it like seeing a loved one who has rapidly progressing dementia for the first time? Is there anything I should or shouldn't say? I wouldn't want to upset him but I desperately want to see him before he forgets who I am.

Hi Sarah,

Thanks for your comment.

It's understandable you may be anxious after a long time apart. We have some information on this page (see the section on 'Your reunion') that you may find helpful: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/coronavirus/dementia-care-hom…

If you'd like to talk to somebody about your visit first, you can also speak with a dementia adviser by calling our Dementia Connect support line on 0333 150 3456: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementia-connect-support-line

Hope this is helpful, Sarah. Let us know if there's anything else we can help with, and enjoy your visit.

Alzheimer's Society blog team

I am rather concerned about my husband. He will be 77 in September. Sometimes he totally mucks up simple tasks, and other times he is absolutely fine. I thought he was joking when he was saying that I hadn't told him things, but I realise now that he truly doesn't remember. His usual .is sunny and kind, but now, occasionally, he is not very nice, and then he will just go back to being nice again. We do go, together, to the Dr, regularly for our repeat scrips, and if any need arises, so this is good as our Dr has known us for over 12 years, since we shifted to Auckland. His mother had alzeimhers as did my Dad, but I dont know how to recognise the beginnings or simple signs, so I can be aware. Thank you for your time.

Hello Jeanette,

Thank you for getting in touch. We'd recommend speaking with a dementia adviser to discuss your current situation. As you've mentioned you're living in Auckland, you may wish to contact Dementia Auckland (https://dementiaauckland.org.nz/contact-us/) for support. Their freephone telephone number is 0800 4 DEMENTIA / 0800 433 636.

In the meantime, we have some information that may be useful -

> Five things you should know about dementia: Find out the five things that you should be aware of when it comes to dementia. It's not a natural part of ageing and it's not just about memory loss - https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/about-dementia/five-things-you-should-kno…

> Is dementia hereditary? Most dementias are not passed down through the family. This page will help you understand the genetic links for different types of dementia: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/about-dementia/risk-factors-and-preventio…

> Worried about memory problems? Our new memory booklet is designed to help you understand more about memory loss, dementia, and the next steps to take - https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/memoryproblems

> Normal ageing vs dementia: We explain the difference between normal ageing and dementia, including examples of potential symptoms for three common types of dementia - https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/about-dementia/symptoms-and-diagnosis/how…

> Dementia Talking Point is our online community where anyone who is affected by dementia can receive valuable support. It's free to register, open day or night, and can be accessed online. Explore the community: https://forum.alzheimers.org.uk/

We hope this helps for now, Jeanette.

Alzheimer's Society blog team

I feel confused of late and have been mixing up my words, I feel as if I'm in a sort of fog which doesn't seem to clear? When I'm out with my friends everyone is chatting and laughing and I seem to keep stumbling over what I plan to say but my words don't come out right and I find that people look at me as if I'm not quite right!

Hi Lorraine, thanks for getting in touch and sorry to hear you've been feeling confused.

If you want to talk to somebody about how you've been feeling, you can call our Dementia Connect support line on 0333 150 3456. Find out more about the support line and its opening hours here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementia-connect-support-line

If you're worried about your memory, it's a good idea to talk to your GP. This page on our website also has some resources which you may find helpful: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/memoryproblems

I hope this is helpful, Lorraine. Please do call our support line if you would like to talk to one of our Dementia Advisers.

Alzheimer's Society blog team

My parents are both 94 this year my mother has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s she has basically given up doing anything ,my father has been making tea and toast or a sandwich but I do everything else cooking cleaning washing shopping etc my dad has been getting very disoriented lately and often phones and says he’s somewhere he’s not ( they have been shielding a year) today he phoned my husband to tell him that he and my mum were in Spain running a pub it took us a long time to explain that he’s home ! I have cancer and it’s not curable but I am doing ok I’m also an only child so it all falls on myself and my husband, I don’t even know why I’m writing this just need to vent I think 😀

Sorry to hear your personal news. As with your parents, I am in a similar situation to you and have my own degenerative health issues etc. Sometimes we just need to vent our feelings. There are many times I get frustrated and sad. It’s been hard through lockdown. We’ve had trouble getting support so I’ve been doing all I can to help them. I hear you and I understand you. You take care of yourself too as we have little time to do that and then end up feeling guilty if we do.

My husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer's last year (after much persuasion and eventually given Donepezilo 10 mg.
When and who to I go to, to find out when the medication needs increasing?

Hello Barbara,

We strongly recommend speaking with the GP. We have a helpful factsheet that explains more about how the GP can support people affected by dementia:https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/sites/default/files/pdf/factsheet_how_the…

You can our Dementia Connect support line on 0333 150 3456 if you are in need of general dementia information or emotional support. Our dementia advisers are here for you seven days a week: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementia-connect-support-line

Some people also find it helps to talk with others who have gone through or are going through similar experiences. If you think this would help, you can visit our online community, Talking Point, for peer support: https://forum.alzheimers.org.uk/ It's free and open day or night.

We hope this is helpful.

Alzheimer's Society blog team

Very informative

My Dad has been having a couple of tests as his memory is terrible and he gets letters mixed up when writing simple words like soup. He’s been referred to our local memory clinic and he spoke to the dr last week and he’s told my mum that he has the early signs of dementia. I’m worried about how my Mum will cope if he definitely does have it as he has a bad temper and shouts all the time if anyone says something he disagrees with! so I’m dreading it if he gets any worse as it really upsets my Mum, they’ve been married 50 years this year and love them both to bits!

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