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The Difference Between Alzheimer’s and Dementia

Written by OurParents Staff
 about the author
4 minute readLast updated February 12, 2024

Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are two terms that are often used interchangeably. The distinction between the two diseases can often be confusing for patients and caregivers alike. However, as you care for your aging loved one, distinguishing between Alzheimer’s and dementia is crucial. This knowledge will equip you to better navigate the challenges of caregiving and ensure that your loved one receives the most appropriate and effective care.

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Is dementia Alzheimer’s?

No, dementia is the general term for a set of symptoms, including a decline in memory, thinking, and logic. Alzheimer’s is a specific disease that falls under the umbrella of dementia and is often the leading cause of a dementia diagnosis.
Dementia is also not a normal part of aging. The symptoms present for a dementia diagnosis come from damaged brain cells that affect an individual’s ability to communicate and think clearly.[01]

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What is Alzheimer’s disease?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Alzheimer’s is the cause of between 60% and 80% of all dementia cases.[02]
Despite not knowing all the causes of Alzheimer’s, experts understand that many of the causes are related to changes in three genes. These gene changes can be inherited from parents to children, and the key gene that raises the risk of Alzheimer’s is called apolipoprotein E4 (APOE).[03]

Dementia vs. Alzheimer’s symptoms

People with Alzheimer’s often exhibit speech changes, pauses, and other dementia-like symptoms. These include:
  • Memory loss
  • Disorientation and confusion
  • Communication problems
  • Withdrawal from work or social activities
  • Changes in mood and personality
  • Decreased or poor judgment

Symptoms of dementia

There’s a lot of overlap between the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and the symptoms of other types of dementia. However, dementia symptoms broadly include:
  • Trouble with visual and spatial abilities
  • Impaired reasoning or problem-solving
  • Difficulty performing complex tasks
  • Poor coordination
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Inappropriate behavior
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
Keep in mind that these symptoms can also be present in Alzheimer’s disease. For example, while hallucinations are more common in Lewy body dementia, they can also be caused by Alzheimer’s.[04] The exact symptoms that these diseases cause depend on the person.

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Alzheimer's vs. dementia diagnosis and treatment

When it comes to the diagnosis and treatment of dementia versus Alzheimer’s disease, there can be a lot of differences. When a person is diagnosed with dementia, they are diagnosed with a set of symptoms. This is similar to the diagnosis of a sore throat. The throat is sore, but it’s unknown what’s causing that particular symptom. It could be allergies, a common cold, or a bacterial infection like strep. Similarly, when people have dementia, they are experiencing symptoms with an undetermined cause.
Alzheimer’s disease, on the other hand, can be diagnosed definitively. Doctors use a variety of screenings to determine whether someone has this form of dementia, including blood tests, brain scans, and mental status evaluations.[05]
Treatment for all forms of dementia depends on the cause. Because Alzheimer’s isn’t currently a reversible disease, treatment is dedicated to slowing its progression and alleviating its symptoms. Some other causes of dementia, such as drug interactions or vitamin deficiencies, are reversible or temporary, and they can be treated with medication. Until a formal diagnosis is made, the best approach to any dementia is communication, engagement, and loving care.
When loved ones are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or other incurable forms of dementia, it can be extremely difficult to provide them with everything they need to maintain their comfort and security. In these cases, the best option may be to find alternative senior living options for your loved one, such as a memory care facility. Our Senior Care Advisors can help you determine the best option for your loved one’s unique situation.


  1. National Institute on Aging. (2022, December 8). What Is Dementia? Symptoms, Types, and Diagnosis.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, June 30). Caregiving for a Person with Alzheimer’s Disease or a Related Dementia.

  3. National Institute on Aging. (2023, March 1). Alzheimer’s Disease Genetics Fact Sheet.

  4. National Institute on Aging. (2021, July 29). What Is Lewy Body Dementia? Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments.

  5. National Institute on Aging. (2022, December 8). How Is Alzheimer’s Disease Diagnosed?

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OurParents Staff

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