What’s the Difference Between Alzheimer’s and Dementia?


The terminology behind Alzheimer’s and dementia can be confusing since many people believe the words are interchangeable. Knowing  the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s empowers families and their caregivers with the necessary knowledge to provide support to their loved ones.

How Is Dementia Different From Alzheimer’s?

These terms are often used synonymously but they actually have different meanings. Dementia is a condition that refers to mental and physical difficulties such as short-term memory loss, communication issues, and physical performance. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia that causes issues with retention, verbal communication, and mental processing.

What Is Dementia?

Dementia is an umbrella term describing a variety of symptoms that interfere with one’s daily life such as memory loss, verbal capabilities, and critical thinking skills. Unlike Alzheimer’s, dementia is a syndrome, not a disease. While Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, other common types of dementia include vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, and frontotemporal dementia.

What Is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia. The disease was discovered by Dr. Alois Alzheimer in 1906 by performing a brain examination of a woman who had passed away from an unknown disorder after having established a close clinical relationship with his patient. Her symptoms included short-term memory impairment, communication issues, and irrational behavior. The examination, that was performed by Dr. Alois Alzheimer, revealed neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaques. It took years of research and breakthroughs to become familiar with Alzheimer’s disease as we know it today.

Dementia vs Alzheimer’s: What Are the Differences?What Are the Causes of Alzheimer’s and Other Forms of Dementia?

There are no definitive causes for Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, but studies have shown that one’s age is the most important known risk factor for the disease. Other variables include environmental factors, lifestyle and genetics. Environmental factors include pollution, toxic chemicals and brain injury.  

Lifestyle factors include exercise, weight, sleep, diet, smoking, high blood pressure, and diabetes.  Genetics may play a role in Alzheimer’s if certain genes are passed down from parent to child. The chance of developing Alzheimer’s may be higher if you have family members with the disease. However, having a parent with the disease does not guarantee that the child will develop Alzheimer’s.   

Dementia vs. Alzheimer’s: Common Symptoms

Symptoms of Dementia

Dementia is a syndrome that may cause memory loss, withdrawal from usual activities and social engagements, difficulties doing everyday tasks, and confusion with time and place.. Dementia or Alzheimer’s may also cause an individual to become susceptible to poor decision making. In addition, individuals with dementia may misplace items or have trouble with comprehending visual information. Some of these symptoms can be misconstrued as typical aging, but for a dementia patient, they are on a more severe level. 

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s

Specifically for Alzheimer’s, symptoms generally worsen over time as the disease can affect multiple functions of the brain. Early on in the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, difficulty remembering new information is a common symptom as the disease primarily impacts the part of the brain that is associated with learning. As Alzheimer’s progresses, the symptoms become much more severe, which include behavior changes, confusion, and disorientation. Later on, walking, speaking, and swallowing become difficult.

Treatments & Cures for Dementia vs Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s and dementia currently have no known cure, but there are several FDA-approved drugs currently available that could possibly reduce symptoms. These drugs do not slow the progression or treat the underlying causes. Extensive research studies are continuously being conducted to find new interventions and treatments for Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. In the future, treatments may be able to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s or potentially prevent  the disease.

Terra Vista is an assisted living community in Oakbrook Terrace, Illinois that specializes at caring for individuals with Alzheimer’s and dementia. If you’re struggling to care for a family member with Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia, give us a call at (630) 534-0886 or fill out our contact form.

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Meet the Author


Natalie has compiled over eighteen years experience providing outstanding care to people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. In addition to being a certified Alzheimer’s and dementia care trainer, McFarland is a licensed continued education instructor for nurses and social workers through the Illinois Department of Professional Regulations. She has also developed several Alzheimer’s research partnerships. Included in those projects were Dr. Virginia Cruz, Ph.D., RN, Associate Professor of SIUE and Dr. George Grossberg, M.D., Medical Director of the Department of Psychiatry and Neurology at Saint Louis University. Natalie is a graduate of Southern Illinois University.