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

Today, more than 850,000 people in the UK are living with dementia, including over 520,000 with Alzheimer’s disease. Not everybody knows that the two terms are far from being interchangeable. Read on to find out more about the main differences.

Are dementia and Alzheimer’s the same disease?

Dementia is not a disease, but it identifies a group of symptoms that may include:

  • Memory loss
  • Changes in personality and mood
  • Difficulties in problem solving, thinking and speaking

Dementia is caused by a range of diseases affecting the brain, including Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s is a disease, and is the most common cause of dementia.

What are the causes of dementia?

As we mentioned, dementia is a set of symptoms. These symptoms can be caused by an array of different diseases that produce a loss of nerve cells in the brain. Dementia is progressive, so the symptoms will get worse with time.

There are more than 100 known causes of dementia, including:

  • Alzheimer’s disease: abnormal ‘plaques’ and ‘tangles’ build up inside the brain and cause nerve cells to die.
  • Vascular dementia: the second most common cause of dementia, it usually starts after a stroke or ‘mini strokes’. The lack of oxygen to the brain causes nerve cells to die.
  • Dementia with Lewy bodies: abnormal structures (Lewy bodies) form in the brain and cause nerve cells to die. Symptoms may include tremors and hallucinations.
  • Frontotemporal dementia: starting with clumps of protein forming in the forehead part of the brain. It can develop at a younger age (around 60 years old).

You can develop more than one type of dementia at the same time (mixed dementia), with symptoms from multiple diseases.

It is important for the diagnosis to specify what type of dementia you have. This way, you’ll be able to learn how to better cope with the symptoms and how to set up the most appropriate dementia care.

What is Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s is the most common disease causing the set of symptoms called “dementia”. The damages to the brain – which start long before the first symptoms appear – are caused by ‘plaques’ and ‘tangles’ which disrupt the communication between nerve cells.

Although there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s, treatments and personalised Alzheimer’s care
can alleviate the symptoms and improve the quality of life of people affected by this progressive disease.

What are the symptoms of Alzheimer’s?

Everyone’s experience of Alzheimer’s is unique: each person affected will have slightly different symptoms. Also, symptoms will change over time as the disease progresses.

These are the most common signs you can expect to experience in the early stages of Alzheimer’s:

  • Memory lapses
  • Forgetting how to do simple tasks
  • Feeling lost and not recognising where you are
  • Forgetting names
  • Difficulty solving problems and making decisions
  • In the later stages of Alzheimer’s, symptoms will be likely to also include:
  • Sudden mood swings (with possible signs of depression)
  • Poor or impaired judgement
  • Difficulties walking and eating
  • Hallucinations (more rare, but possible)

Read more about treatments and how to live well with dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Further resources

Click for more information these charities about Alzheimer’s and dementia:

· The Alzheimer’s Society
· Dementia UK
· Carers UK
· Age UK
· Alzheimer’s Research UK
· The National Dementia Helpline

How Home Instead can help

Home Instead is recognised as a valued and trusted solution to help your loved one maintain their independence at home for as long as they are able to. Our trained Care Professionals provide personalised home care that:

  • Helps your loved one remain safe at home
  • Helps to understand different behaviours and needs
  • Promotes and encourages involvement in stimulating and engaging activities
  • Builds confidence and encourages engagement
  • Builds self-esteem and physical strength