What's the difference between dementia and Alzheimer's disease?

Answer From Jonathan Graff-Radford, M.D.

These terms are often used interchangeably, but they actually have very different meanings. Dementia is not a specific disease. It's an overall term, sometimes referred to as an umbrella term, which describes a wide range of symptoms. These symptoms impact a person's ability to perform everyday activities independently. Common symptoms include:

  • A decline in memory
  • Changes in thinking skills
  • Poor judgment and reasoning skills
  • Decreased focus and attention
  • Changes in language and communication skills

Alzheimer's disease is one type of dementia, but it's not the only one. There are many different types and causes of dementia, including:

  • Lewy body dementia
  • Frontotemporal dementia
  • Vascular dementia
  • Parkinson's disease dementia
  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
  • Huntington's disease
  • Mixed dementia

Alzheimer's disease, however, is the most well-known and common form of dementia but not everyone with dementia has Alzheimer's disease.

With

Jonathan Graff-Radford, M.D.

March 26, 2020 See more Expert Answers

See also

  1. MIND diet may cut Alzheimer's risk
  2. Adult day service
  3. Alzheimer's sleep problems
  4. Alzheimer's: New treatments
  5. Helping an Alzheimer's caregiver
  6. Alzheimer's 101
  7. Alzheimer's and dementia care: 8 tips for doctor visits
  8. Alzheimer's and daily tasks
  9. Alzheimer's and dementia: Tips for daily care
  10. Alzheimer's: Can a head injury increase my risk?
  11. Mediterranean diet
  12. Alzheimer's disease
  13. Alzheimer's disease: Can exercise prevent memory loss?
  14. Alzheimer's drugs
  15. Alzheimer's genes
  16. Alzheimer's nose spray: New Alzheimer's treatment?
  17. Alzheimer's or depression: Could it be both?
  18. Alzheimer's prevention: Does it exist?
  19. Alzheimer's stages
  20. Alzheimer's test: Detection at the earliest stages
  21. Alzheimer's and holidays
  22. Antidepressant withdrawal: Is there such a thing?
  23. Antidepressants and alcohol: What's the concern?
  24. Antidepressants and weight gain: What causes it?
  25. Antidepressants: Can they stop working?
  26. Antidepressants: Side effects
  27. Antidepressants: Selecting one that's right for you
  28. Antidepressants: Which cause the fewest sexual side effects?
  29. Anxiety disorders
  30. Atypical antidepressants
  31. Axona: Medical food to treat Alzheimer's
  32. Benefits of being bilingual
  33. Caffeine and depression: Is there a link?
  34. The role of diet and exercise in preventing Alzheimer's disease
  35. Can music help someone with Alzheimer's?
  36. Can yoga help me keep caregiver stress in check?
  37. Caregiver stress
  38. Dementia caregiving: Dealing with the strain on your marriage
  39. Long-distance caregiving
  40. Clinical depression: What does that mean?
  41. CT scan
  42. CT scans: Are they safe?
  43. Depression and anxiety: Can I have both?
  44. Depression, anxiety and exercise
  45. Depression: Diagnosis is key
  46. Depression in women: Understanding the gender gap
  47. Depression (major depressive disorder)
  48. Depression: Provide support, encouragement
  49. Depression: Supporting a family member or friend
  50. Diabetes and Alzheimer's
  51. Diagnosing Alzheimer's
  52. Does obstructive sleep apnea increase my risk for Alzheimer's disease?
  53. Alzheimer's elder care
  54. Fish oil and depression
  55. Folic acid supplements: Can they slow cognitive decline?
  56. Ginkgo biloba: Can it prevent memory loss?
  57. Home safety tips for Alzheimer's caregivers
  58. How can I cope with caregiver guilt?
  59. Huperzine A: Can it treat Alzheimer's?
  60. Improve brain health with the MIND diet
  61. Intermittent fasting
  62. Is the definition of Alzheimer's disease changing?
  63. Depression and diet
  64. Lexapro side effects: Is breast tenderness common?
  65. Male depression: Understanding the issues
  66. MAOIs and diet: Is it necessary to restrict tyramine?
  67. Marijuana and depression
  68. Mayo Clinic Minute: 3 tips to reduce your risk of Alzheimer's disease
  69. Mayo Clinic Minute: Alzheimer's disease risk and lifestyle
  70. Mayo Clinic Minute New definition of Alzheimer's changes
  71. Mayo Clinic Minute: Women and Alzheimer's Disease
  72. Mediterranean diet recipes
  73. Memory loss: When to seek help
  74. Mild depression: Are antidepressants effective?
  75. Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
  76. MRI
  77. Natural remedies for depression: Are they effective?
  78. Nervous breakdown: What does it mean?
  79. New Alzheimers Research
  80. Pain and depression: Is there a link?
  81. Pet therapy
  82. Phantosmia: What causes olfactory hallucinations?
  83. Phosphatidylserine supplements: Can they improve memory?
  84. Positron emission tomography scan
  85. Rapidly progressing Alzheimer's: Something else?
  86. Seeing Inside the Heart with MRI
  87. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
  88. Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
  89. Sharing Alzheimer's diagnosis
  90. Brain anatomy
  91. Sundowning: Late-day confusion
  92. Treatment-resistant depression
  93. Tricyclic antidepressants and tetracyclic antidepressants
  94. Video: Alzheimer's drug shows early promise
  95. MRI
  96. Vitamin B-12 and depression
  97. Vitamin B-12 and Alzheimer's
  98. Vitamin D: Can it prevent Alzheimer's & dementia?
  99. Young-onset Alzheimer's