Understanding the Difference Between Dementia and Alzheimer’s

Understanding the Difference Between Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease


Is it Alzheimer’s, or is it dementia? What’s the difference?

Often, people use these terms interchangeably. But they’re not the same. And it’s important to understand the difference because these age-related cognitive disorders can have very different implications when it comes to the health of the affected person, and how you go about treating them.

What is dementia?

Dementia isn’t really a disease. It’s actually a set of symptoms, rather than a diagnosis. The very same symptoms in different people might have very different causes and call for different methods of treatment.

Dementia refers to any cognitive impairment that affects memory, focus, language, and communication, and/or reasoning. Some of the signs and symptoms of dementia include:

  • Slowed cognitive function
  • Impaired communication
  • Difficulty performing daily activities
  • Memory loss (usually short-term memory)
  • Mood changes
  • Apathy
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty following conversation
  • Repetitive motions, actions or words
  • Difficulty adapting to change

What is Alzheimer’s disease?

Unlike dementia, Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia that is specific and diagnosable. (So in other words, every Alzheimer’s patient has dementia, but not everyone with dementia has Alzheimer’s.)

Alzheimer’s is a progressive brain disease that causes a slow decline in cognitive function, including memory, thinking and reasoning skills. Alzheimer’s is associated with changes or deterioration of parts of the brain in ways that have not yet been found to be reversible.

Most people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s are elderly, over the age of 65. But a significant number of younger (under 65) individuals each year are diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. This disease is currently the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S.

What to do if you suspect Alzheimer’s or dementia

While Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia (50%-60% of all cases, according to the CDC), it would be a mistake to assume that a person who exhibits symptoms of dementia is incurable.

If you think someone you love may be suffering from Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, give us a call right away. It’s important to find out exactly what’s going on. It’s possible that the symptoms are occurring because of a minor, treatable condition. Sometimes, a simple thing like a urinary tract infection can trigger symptoms that mimic Alzheimer’s—yet are completely and easily reversible. Even if Alzheimer’s is confirmed, catching it early can make a world of difference in the person’s quality and length of life.

And if you have a family history of Alzheimer’s or dementia and want to know how to beat the odds, you’re in the right place! Our patient care concierge can help you connect with one of our doctors to create a proactive wellness plan to keep you bright and active your whole life long!