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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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102 comments

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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 😀

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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.

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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?

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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

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Very informative

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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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My 77 year old mum had a fall in May 2020 and broke her right hip causing hospitalisation. It appears this may have caused or accelerated the onset of Alzheimers. She was diagnosed in December with "Dementia in Alzheimers disease with late onset". As Dementia and Alzheimers are different, I am slightly confused myself as to what to expect for her in the future . . .

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My friend is saying that her house has fruit fly's . They are on her pillow &. In the kitchen .no other house has them.
She said they are tiny black things.
I asked if they had wings ? She said no, not that she can see.
Her memory is bad , over ten years now.
Is this Lewy bodies ?

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Hi Norma,

Thanks for getting in touch. It's hard for us to comment on individual situations as everyone is different. However, if you're worried about your friend's memory problems, we'd recommend seeking advice: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/memoryproblems

You can also call our Dementia Connect support line to discuss your concerns with one of our trained dementia advisers. They can listen to your friend's situation and provide information and support. Please call them on 0333 150 3456. Opening hours are listed here: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/dementia-connect-support-line

In the meantime, here's our page on the symptoms of dementia with Lewy bodies, in case this is helpful: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/about-dementia/types-dementia/dementia-wi…

Alzheimer's Society blog team

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My grandfather died a few years back, and he had some form of dementia. The hardest part about it was that he didn't remember me or my sister when we visited him in the care home. His was early onset, so we knew how to cope with things like that. My grandmother would see him twice daily and when he died I think she felt like she had no purpose anymore. We loved her to bits, but we lived far away from them and would only go up at Christmas times and several other holidays. My grandfather remembered music well though, and me and my sister would play music for him every time we went.

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My husband is 70 he loses his patience with simple tasks , like opening things, and doing simple daily tasks, he gets frustrated and angry and shouts, do not like him

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Hi my wife is 86. .. the doctor says she has Alzheimer’s ,,,, her mobility is getting really bad ... she says she can’t handle every day tasks ,, housework etc ,,, a carer comes in in a morning to help shower and dress her ...what I can’t get my head around is when you read about Alzheimer’s it always mentions memory loss but hers is sharp as a pin past and present she reminds my to do things .... she does suffer from acute anxiety and depression she shuffles and keeps saying “I don’t know what to do “ also takes a memory tablet memenatine also other meds ,,, does anyone else have this type of Alzheimer’s with no memory loss at all thank you mike

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my husband has dementia and he is as sharp as ever he knows what he wants but hes lost his speech and mobility, forgets to swallow so dripples a lot.

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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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