Differences Between Dementia and Alzheimer's

Although you may hear the terms dementia and Alzheimer’s disease used interchangeably, it's important to know they are distinct concepts. Dementia is the general term used to describe a decline in cognitive function. Alzheimer's is a specific health condition, although it is the most common cause of dementia.

A woman with Alzheimer's looking out the window
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The Difference Between Alzheimer’s and Dementia

Dementia is a decline in cognitive function that includes problems with thought processing, judgement, reasoning, memory, communication, and behavior control that have an impact on a person's ability to live a normal life. The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer's disease.

Other causes of dementia include:


Dementia can show up as memory loss (usually short-term initially), difficulty finding the right words, poor judgment, or a change in behaviors and emotions. Executive functioning—such as planning or carrying out multiple steps to complete a task—may become difficult, and orientation to the day, date, time, or location may decline.

Dementia is typically progressive, meaning that functioning declines over time. However, this varies significantly based on which condition is causing dementia.


Dementia results from damage to the brain and is related to several different neurological conditions that affect cognition, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, Lewy body dementia, and frontotemporal dementia. Each of these diseases has certain causes and risk factors, including lifestyle and genetics.

The risk of developing dementia increases as people age, but it is not a normal consequence of aging.

Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia, accounting for roughly 60% to 80% percent of cases, according to the Alzheimer's Association. Approximately 5.8 million people are living with Alzheimer’s dementia.


If you suspect someone has dementia, arrange for a doctor’s appointment for an evaluation. Sometimes, reversible conditions such as normal pressure hydrocephalus or vitamin B12 deficiency can cause confusion or memory loss. An assessment by a doctor can determine if any of those reversible health concerns exist, as well as outline a plan for treatment.

According to the National Institute on Aging, cognitive and neuropsychological tests, brain scans, psychiatric evaluation, and genetic testing may be used to diagnose dementia:


Treatment of dementia varies. Medications that are approved specifically to treat Alzheimer’s disease are often prescribed to treat other kinds of dementia as well. While some people see little benefit, others report that these medications seem to temporarily improve cognitive functioning and slow the progression of dementia.

Other ways to respond to changes in cognition and behavior include non-drug approaches like maintaining a daily routine, changing how caregivers respond to the person with dementia, and paying attention to non-verbal communication from your loved one.


There is no sure-fire way to prevent dementia, but research suggests that things such as keeping your brain active, staying social, getting regular physical exercise, maintaining good heart health, and consuming a healthy diet may reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s and other kinds of dementia.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Alzheimer's Association. What is dementia?

  2. Alzheimer's Association. Types of dementia.

  3. Alzheimer's Association. 2019 Alzheimer's disease facts and figures report. Alzheimers Dement. 15(3):321-87.

  4. Osimani A, Berger A, Friedman J, Porat-Katz BS, Abarbanel JM. Neuropsychology of vitamin B12 deficiency in elderly dementia patients and control subjects. J Geriatr Psychiatry Neurol. 2005;18(1):33-8. doi:10.1177/0891988704272308

  5. National Institute on Aging. What is dementia? Symptoms, types, and diagnosis.

  6. Azheimer's Association. Prevention.

By Esther Heerema, MSW
Esther Heerema, MSW, shares practical tips gained from working with hundreds of people whose lives are touched by Alzheimer's disease and other kinds of dementia.