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Alzheimer's vs Dementia

The Difference Between Alzheimer’s Disease & Dementia Explained

Dementia and Alzheimer’s are not the same thing. Dementia is a general term for a decline in cognitive abilities that include memory loss and thinking difficulties. Alzheimer’s is a disease that affects the brain and causes dementia. Alzheimer’s is only one of many types of dementia — each with their own cause.

Alzheimer's VS Dementia

Between 50% and 75% of people living with dementia in the UK have Alzheimer’s disease. This can lead people to assume that all people with dementia have Alzheimer’s or that they’re one and the same. 

It is important to understand the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in order to know how best to support your relative. Some symptoms and treatments for dementia caused by Alzheimer’s are not the same as the symptoms and treatments available for other types of dementia.

Understanding Dementia

Dementia is a term for a decline in cognitive abilities that takes place in a person’s brain — with symptoms usually including changes to memory, behaviour and the ability to carry out everyday tasks. 

There are different types of dementia, which each have their own specific symptoms. Vascular dementia, for example, is characterised by slowness of thought. Lewy-body dementia tends to cause more severe difficulty with movement.

Dementia is caused by damage to the cells in the brain. There is no cure for dementia, but there are treatments that can help with the symptoms.

Understanding Alzheimer's

Alzheimer’s disease is a specific brain disease that causes dementia. It is the most common cause of dementia globally and in the UK. The difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia is that Alzheimer’s is one of multiple diseases that leads to dementia.

Alzheimer’s is a degenerative condition, which means it gets worse as time goes on. An early symptom of Alzheimer’s is difficulty with short-term memory. Over time, there are a wider number of more severe symptoms, such as losing the ability to swallow, speak and move around easily. You can find out everything you need to know about Alzheimer’s from our Complete Guide to Alzheimer’s.

Frequently Asked Questions about Dementia and Alzheimer's

What's the difference between Alzheimer's and Amnesia?

Alzheimer's is a specific degenerative brain disease that causes dementia.

Amnesia is another word for memory loss. There are many things besides dementia that can cause memory loss, such as a recent stroke, insomnia, delirium, or just getting older. 

Amnesia can be one of the early signs of dementia - which could be caused by Alzheimer's. If your relative is having difficulty with their memory, it is worth contacting their GP so that they can make an assessment on the cause of their amnesia.

Can you be forgetful and not have Alzheimer's disease?

You can be forgetful and not have Alzheimer's disease. You can be forgetful and not have any type of dementia at all. Forgetfulness can be caused by many things - including just getting older. 

What is worse, Alzheimer's or dementia?

It is important to understand that the difference between Alzheimer's and dementia means that one is not worse than the other. Alzheimer's disease causes dementia. A person with Alzheimer's disease has both Alzheimer's and dementia.

It is difficult to compare the severity of Alzheimer's to other types of dementia because it is a degenerative condition. 

Does everyone with dementia have Alzheimer's disease?

Not everyone with dementia has Alzheimer's disease. Alzheimer's causes approximately 50% to 75% of dementia cases.

Common non-Alzheimer's types of dementia include vascular dementia, Lewy-body dementia, and frontotemporal dementia.

Can you have Alzheimer's and other types of dementia at the same time?

Yes, it is possible to have Alzheimer's and other types of dementia at the same time. This is known as 'mixed dementia'. Read more about mixed dementia in our guide to types of dementia.