Differences Between Dementia and Alzheimer's

Dementia is a broad term, often called an umbrella term, that refers to a deterioration in brain functioning. It can include thought processes, judgment, reasoning, memory, communication, and behavior.

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

Dementia is a broad category, while Alzheimer’s disease is a specific type, and the most common cause, of dementia.

The terms are sometimes used interchangeably, but there are several different types and causes of dementia, including:


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 typically is 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, Levy body disease, 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, brain scans, psychiatric evaluation, and genet tests 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 report seeing 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.

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