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 different meanings. Dementia is not a specific disease. It's an umbrella term that describes a wide range of symptoms. These symptoms affect people's ability to perform everyday activities on their own. Common symptoms of dementia include:

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

Alzheimer's disease is the most common 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
  • Limbic-predominant age-related TDP-43 encephalopathy
  • Chronic traumatic encephalopathy
  • Parkinson's disease dementia
  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
  • Huntington's disease
  • Mixed dementia

While dementia is a general term, Alzheimer's disease is a specific brain disease. It is marked by symptoms of dementia that gradually get worse over time. Alzheimer's disease first affects the part of the brain associated with learning, so early symptoms often include changes in memory, thinking and reasoning skills. As the disease progresses, symptoms become more severe and include confusion, changes in behavior and other challenges.


Jonathan Graff-Radford, M.D.

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April 14, 2022 See more Expert Answers

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