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

By Caitlyn Mark, Memory Care Director at Wingate Residences at Needham

Hello again! The most common question I’m asked is, “What is the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s disease?”


Dementia is the umbrella word used to describe all types of cognitive diseases. Dementia is a term used to describe a decrease in mental abilities or memory loss that may affect activities of daily living due to the changes in the brain; it can also be defined as a set of symptoms. An individual may also have various forms of dementia. The best scenario I can provide to help you better understand the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s disease would be the example of cars. If someone says they have a car (dementia), you may then ask what kind, to which they may respond “Toyota” (Alzheimer’s disease) or “Ford” (Lewy Body) and so on.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. About 60 to 80 percent of individuals diagnosed with a form of dementia are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. It’s the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, worsens over time and is not a normal part of aging. For more on Alzheimer’s, I encourage you to watch the video “Mechanism and Secrets of Alzheimer’s Disease: Exploring the Brain.” It can be viewed here.

If you suspect that you or your loved one is suffering from Alzheimer’s, you should see a doctor as soon as possible. Memory loss is common with old age, but if you are experiencing any symptoms or drastic changes that are having an effect on your activities of daily living, you or your loved one need to have this full work-up done. YOU ARE YOUR OWN BEST ADVOCATE! A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease requires a thorough review of one’s medical history or family medical history, testing of mental status and mood, a physical and neurological exam, and perhaps blood tests or brain imaging.

I often hear individuals say, “No way, I don’t want to have an early diagnosis because then I will know I am ‘losing my mind.’” Early detection allows you to plan your future accordingly and allows you to create legal, financial and care plans while you are still capable. Though there isn’t a cure, there are medications available to decrease or prevent the symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, so you or your loved one may have the opportunity to remain independent.

Remember, you and your loved one have support and are not alone. Reach out to a support group, speak to individuals working in the healthcare industry who specialize in cognitive diseases, turn to the Alzheimer’s Association, read the research, speak to a friend or family member, and ask questions — we are here for you!

Living in their reality,