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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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94 comments

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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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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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I am in exactly the same position as you, James. I've contacted various local carers groups but they only seem to pay lip service to my problems, suggesting other support groups when what I really need is practical help to understand what is happening. The Covid outbreak has done us no favours, but even before this practical help was impossible to find.
It looks as though we are alone. If not, as you say, it certainly feels like it.

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Sorry James but that is what women do. I am sole carer for my husband 82 with alzheimers and have all his care to do as well as all the things you mention and a coal fire to light and clean out daily and am also fed up so know where you are coming from. Being 73 myself and more health issues than my husband, am exhausted.

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James I hope you have claimed and your wife is in receipt of Attendance Allowance?
If not definitely claim! Whether you get get lower or higher rate it gives you options and help.
Extra money each week to help you employ a cleaner for a couple of hours, maybe someone to sit with your wife for a couple of hours each week while you go and enjoy some time for yourself.
Citizens advice bureau would help you complete a form.
Contact your local council for a list of services geared towards dementia help, day centres, activities, coffee mornings for the dementia sufferer AND the carer.
You'll probably be surprised just how much help there is out therewife it's just knowing that it's available.
Also asked your local authority for a carer's assessment. It's there to help you, so you are better able to care. With this you may get help with taxi fares if you don't drive, help with housework, someone to take over the care so you can take a break, put you in touch with support groups with other people to talk to you in a similar situation.
Good luck!

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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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Although your post is dated Jan 2020, I just read it. I understand completely what you are going through. Hope its not too late but please ensure she sees a Doctor for further good advice. Driving horrifies me, if she has an accident and kills / hurts someone else you will never forgive yourselves. My mother went through this so I have first hand experience. You love her dearly and your intervention will help her no doubt, see a Doctor they really do try to help, at least give them the opportunity. Take care

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If you contact her Doctor they can do a test discreetly and he can explain things. Older people have respect for Doctors. If it's early onset they can give meds to help and she can still live an independent life.
You do need to keep an eye on her driving ability though.

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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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