What’s the difference between Alzheimer’s and Dementia?

What is the difference between Dementia and Alzheimer’s?

So often I hear people say things like “my father doesn’t have dementia, he has Alzheimer’s”.  I know exactly what they mean. And, it shows a need to learn more about what those words refer to. Actually Alzheimers IS a form of dementia!

Think of it this way: Dementia is the umbrella term for many different brain diseases. Alzheimer’s is only one of them.

The word dementia could be taken apart as: de (“down from” or “concerning”) + mens (“mind”).  Maybe we could safely say “apart from”..rather than “out of one’s mind”. Just not having the same access in the same ways to our normal brain activity.

The statistics used to say that 80-90% of all dementias were Alzhiemer’s. Now the current thinking is that  it’s more like 50 – 60% are full on Alzheimer’s.

It’s just that this is the first time in history that so many people are living so long..thanks to modern medicine and surgeries – so we’re seeing many more people with conditions that occur in later years, and so our languaging for older age conditions needs updating.

It’s very important now, with the numbers of people turning 65 every day, for us to really understand what happens to our brains as we age. According to Pew Research, that number is 10,000 every day in the US alone! And, the Alzheimer’s Association has statistics showing that 1 in 9 people over 65 will have a dementia. That begins to feel close to home, doesn’t it?

Run the clock forward a bit..and the same statistics sources show that after the age of 85, a full 50% of people will have some type of dementia. Think about that next time you’re in a group of people. Do the math.

So it really behooves us to know as much as we can about our brains so that we can take the best care of ourselves as we can..and also to know how to help each other. Not just relying on doctors and drugs. Also to know that the person with dementia is still a whole person, with the desire to contribute and be understood, and seen and known as a person with strengths.

An important clarification is that dementia is not just memory failure. It’s brain failure. It is a devastating, progressive condition and everyone is doing their very best to survive. Early identification is critical to being able to work with it, understand what’s happening and what kind of dementia it may be. And it is often a mix. Here are the most common of the 80 – 90 types of dementia now known:

*Alzheimers – caused by “plaques and tangles” of cells in the brain…it is a progressive brain disease.

*Vascular Dementia – the second most common, after Alzheimer’s. Caused by strokes, heart attacks, diabetes, and other blood supply-related conditions. Not seen as a disease as much as blood flow problem..still brain damage that has many parallel symptoms to Alzheimer’s.

*Lewy Body – brings on balance problems, visual hallucinations and sundownning.

*Parkinson’s type Dementia – arrested tremors and loss of memory, increased confusion.

*Frontal temporal Dementia.

*Alcohol related Dementia.

*Dementia caused by major depression.

*Traumatic Brain Injuries causing Dementia.


I will be writing more about the different kinds and types of dementias but for now, just to have your language more accurate..we can say a person has Dementia and have it right. What kind they have is another issue. And it does matter, so we know best how to respond to them and their families. And, I have to say, it’s most often very enjoyable for me to be around folks with dementia. Harder for their families to see them change in this way, but for non family members, it can be very rewarding, fun and in-the-moment gratifying. We can learn how to relate with them and help them still feel very valued, that they have so much to offer and that they’re still their same selves, deep down.