Differences Between Dementia and Alzheimer's

A woman with Alzheimer's looking out the window

 giocalde/Getty Images

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.

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. Other kinds of dementia include Huntington’s disease, frontotemporal degeneration, Lewy body dementiavascular disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, and Parkinson’s dementia.


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.


Approximately half of the people over the age of 85 develop Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of dementia. Approximately 5.2 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s or another kind of 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.


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 maintaining an active brain, regular physical exercise, and consuming a healthy diet may reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s and other kinds of dementia.

Was this page helpful?

Article Sources