Dementia and Alzheimer’s: What Are the Differences?

People often get confused between the terms ‘dementia’ and ‘Alzheimer’s disease,’ with many thinking that these are interchangeable terms. However, while Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia, there are many other different types of dementia that arise from a different cause.

The Difference Between the Terms

Dementia: Dementia is an umbrella term that is used to describe a range of symptoms that impact a person’s memory and thinking, how they perform day-to-day activities, and how they communicate.

Alzheimer’s Disease: Alzheimer’s disease is just one type of dementia. In fact, it is the most common type of dementia, being responsible for about 50-70% of all cases of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease gets worse with time and affects memory, language, and thought.

The symptoms of Alzheimer’s and other types of dementias can overlap but in Alzheimer’s it is common to see:

  • difficulties with memory
  • a decline in a person’s ability to think or function cognitively
  • issues with communication

While the symptoms of the different type of dementia often overlap, it is important to distinguish between them to ensure the person living with the condition is receiving the correct advice and treatment.

More About Dementia

Dementia is officially classed as a syndrome. A ‘syndrome’ is the name for a group of symptoms that doesn’t have a definite diagnosis. With dementia, these symptoms affect cognitive tasks, most often the person’s memory and reasoning skills. Dementia can occur as a result of a number of conditions, with Alzheimer’s disease being the most common. In some cases, people will develop more than one type of dementia, known as mixed dementia. As a person’s dementia progresses, it will increasingly impact their ability to function and carry out daily activities.

Symptoms of Dementia

In many cases, symptoms of dementia start off mild, typically beginning with moments of forgetfulness. This will then often progress to the point where the person has difficulty keeping track of time, and they may start losing their way in places that are familiar to them.

How Dementia Progresses

The person’s levels of forgetfulness and confusion typically grow as dementia progresses, and they may start finding it difficult to remember names and faces – even of close family members and people they have known for a long time. Personal care is likely to suffer, and the person may start repeating themselves more often and experience poor decision-making. In the most advanced stage of dementia, the person is unlikely to be able to look after himself or herself.

Causes of Dementia

Dementia occurs when certain brain cells are damaged and is more likely to develop as we get older. There are a number of conditions that can cause dementia, including degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s. Sometimes, conditions caused by an infection, HIV, mineral deficiencies, dehydration or depression are diagnosed as dementia because the symptoms can be similar. If treated symptoms can be relieved. It is therefore important to make sure that correct diagnoses are made and treated.

More About Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disease of the brain that causes impairment in memory and cognitive function over time. The exact cause of Alzheimer’s disease is not known, and there is currently no cure. Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease will generally begin after the age of 60; however, in some cases, younger people will develop Alzheimer’s.

With Alzheimer’s disease, damage to the brain typically starts many years before symptoms appear, as abnormal protein deposits form plaques and tangles in the brain. This causes connections between cells to be lost, and they begin to die.

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease

The symptoms of Alzheimer’s include difficulty remembering recent events or conversations, apathy, depression, diminished judgement, disorientation, confusion, changes in behaviour, and in later stages of the disease, difficulty speaking, swallowing or walking.

Diagnosing Alzheimer’s Disease

In order to make a diagnosis, health professionals have to look at the specific symptoms experienced by the patient. Other types of dementia may share some of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease but will include or exclude others that allow for a diagnosis. For example, people with dementia due to Parkinson’s or Huntington’s disease are more likely to experience involuntary movement in the early stages of the disease. This is not the case with Alzheimer’s disease.


If you’re concerned that you or your loved one are experiencing symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, it is important to seek advice from your doctor or health professional. While there is currently no cure, starting treatment quickly can help to manage symptoms more effectively so that you can focus on a good quality of life.

We hope that this article has provided some useful insight into dementia and, in particular Alzheimer’s disease. If you’re caring for someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, Brain Sparks’ Dementia Live® experience may be of benefit to you. This workshop immerses carers in the experience of living with dementia to give them powerful insights for effectively communicating with those in their care.

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