What's the difference between Dementia and Alzheimer's?

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

If you’re not sure of the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, you’re not alone. Here's a simple explanation to understand the difference.

To put it simply, 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.

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

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

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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.

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! Here at Alzheimer’s Society, we’re united against all types of dementia.

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.

Need help finding dementia information?

Find the information and support you're looking for with our free online tool.

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83 comments

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Thank you for this educative piece. I was not aware of the various diseases that all under 'dementia'.

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My mother has had dementia for 10 yrs, getting worse all the time. The type of dementia could not be diagnosed by the hospital as it did not fit any of the types exactly. She now recognises no one and sits and stares all day. She is 93 and looks like physically will go on for another 10 years. It is sad to see but at least she is not distressed.

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Useful to read other people's comments - my mother-in-law is suffering from Alzheimers

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This information is really interesting and informative, I now feel much more comfortable with the differences between dementia and Alzheimer’s disease which I feel will give me a greater understanding of the issues that sufferers and their families have to deal with.

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This does explain fully the different types of dementia.

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I have been diagnosed with vascular dementia and I've been reading up on your materials and it has been real very supported Jimmy and I understand a lot more now than what I did thank you so much

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My mother was diagnosed about 12 years ago with dementia/Alzheimer's. She lives in a assisted living facility and can do everything for herself. She repeats continuously. She has not really gotten any worse. What can I expect after 12 years. Other than this she is very healthy. Takes an Alzheimer's pill at night only.

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Fed up hearing and reading the term Your Not Alone
I am looking after my wife who has Alzheimers April 2018 and am left to get on with All the duties ie all the house work, ie washing, ironing, shopping, medication, appointments and cooking. With no help from anyone

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I understand what you are going through
My parents are going through the same thing.
If you are not getting help from the local authorities how about advertising for help
Even if it’s just a few hours a day
I volunteer for my local hospice.
Perhaps one of my colleagues could volunteer a few hours with you.
Not sure how to contact you personally on this platform and by the way we are based in North london

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James reach out for support
contact Alzheimers society
I feel sure they will be pleased to give you some contacts.

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You are not alone means that’s there’s others out there who understand or are going through the same as you.
Unfortunately this is something that as a husband you’ve committed to. Caring for someone you love so much is an important roll. Please take care. And think of her when she used to do it all.. now it’s your turn. Pay her back respectively. :) be happy

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Hi if you need help not sure where you live but you can ask for help be contacting adults social services look it up on Google for your area hope this helps

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My husband and I are very concerned about his mum, who is 83 in March. We believe that she has the signs of dementia, her memory has got a lot worse over the past year, and she forgets things she has done or people she may have visited that day. She believes that because she can look after herself, keep her flat clean and still drive, that she is fine. My husband has tried to approach her about going to the doctors for tests, as we want her to continue to live as independently for as long as possible, but she insists that she is fine and if she sees a doctor, he will put her in the ‘loony bin’. (Her words, not ours). We are really trying to look for ways to help her and it’s now got to the stage where we would be very grateful of any advice that you may be able to give. Are we right in thinking that a visit to her doctor should be the obvious next step to help her?
Thankyou in anticipation.

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Hi , I do believe you should go forward with seeing a geriatric specialist who will be familiar on his or her approach. It's a sensitive subject and personal. However , your instincts are correct , no regrets. I just lost my Mom a bit over a month ago. It was painful , but I feel that we followed our hearts as if she were the one taking care. She did it for all four of us. I would do it again because you don't get that time back. Understand you're doing it out of the well being for your loved one. What else are we here for ??Best of luck to you and your Family .

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i am studying biomedical science and am trying to gain some more specific information on the different forms of dementia as well as the different the biological affects of each type.
this website has provided me with vital information for my research but if someone could get back to me who is able to answer a few questions it would be greatly appreciated

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Hi Claudia,
Thanks for your comment - pleased to hear you've found the website useful.
Could you send us an email explaining a little more about the kind of information you need? Email [email protected] and we'll try to connect you with the right person to help.
Thanks,
--
Alzheimer's Society blog team

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My husband diagnosed with late onset dementia slowly getting worse over 5 years. He is obssessed with time. Flies into rages if clocks are seconds out and Christmas and new year diaries are a source of stress. How is best way to cope woth obsession it is very wearing ?

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Hi there,
Sorry to hear about your husband's condition and this new source of stress.
There could be a few different causes of this, so we'd recommend speaking to one of our Dementia advisers who you can talk more about your situation with and get advice from. You can call on 0300 222 11 22 and find more details of how to access phone support here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/national-dementia-helpline
Hope this is helpful,
--
Alzheimer's Society blog team

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My 69yo mother has just been diagnosed with mixed dementia. My sister lives in Kent. I have just moved to to North Norfolk. My mum lives in a one-bed flat in an assisted living complex (warden there 2 hours a week) in Berkshire. Although the diagnosis isn’t a surprise, I feel devastated as I am so far away. I am unable to change my job or move closer to care for my mum and it’s just so upsetting to think that she will have to go through this without seeing us regularly. We have power of attorney for her now so can help with some decisions, but are not able to give her the regular physical love and care she needs. I just feel terrible about this. Should we get a carer for her? What help is available? Do we pay or is there financial help for this? I’d like to try and put some daily help in place to know that she has at least had something to eat and is safe. I don’t know what else to do :(

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Hi Camilla, thanks for getting in touch.
We're very sorry to learn about your mother's recent diagnosis.
We recommend calling our National Dementia Helpline to speak with one of our advisers about the situation - they're available to chat seven days a week on 0300 222 11 22 (but opening times may differ over the Christmas period) - https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/national-dementia-helpline
In the meantime, our Dementia Guide is helpful for anyone who has recently been told they have dementia. It can help to understand more about dementia and the treatments, support and services are available. It includes information about how you can live as well as possible with dementia and about making plans for the future. It also contains helpful information for anyone taking on a caring role, which may be particularly useful for you: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/publications-about-dementia/the-dementia-…
We hope this helps, Camilla.
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Alzheimer's Society blog team

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My mother in law has many worsening symptoms and her husband can’t get her to the doctor. Is he able to access any support from your service? Also how would you advise us to support them?

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Hi there, thanks for getting in touch.
We're sorry to hear about this. We recommend calling our National Dementia Helpline to speak with one of our advisers about the situation - they're available to chat seven days a week on 0300 222 11 22 (but please be aware availability over the Christmas period may differ) - https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/national-dementia-helpline
We hope this helps.
-
Alzheimer's Society blog team

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Iv only just been told I have Dementia Hawever I feel very alone Jenny xxxxxxx

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I was initially very hesitant to discuss my Alzheimer but i just hope it can still help someone. I feel this will be very important information for all Alzheimer patients, because the most violent element in society today is ignorance. Be it any condition, a healthy diet and natural medicine is a road to fast recovery. I had suffered Alzheimer for many years, I fought for proper medical care and all form of humane treatment with little improvement I went through many sleepless nights and periods of intense grief, as do most families. I was recommended by a friend to use ZOMO herbs for my Alzheimer with high hope and assurance. I finally feel my illness is gone with no more symptoms. Doc email ID [email protected]

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