Dementia vs Alzheimer’s: What’s the difference?

Posted on 25 September 2015

The World Health Organization estimates that more than 47.5 million people have dementia and there are 7.7 million new cases every year worldwide. But even though it affects so many people’s lives, there remains a lot of confusion about it. One of the misconceptions is that dementia and Alzheimer’s are the same thing.

Dementia is an umbrella term for a set of symptoms including impaired thinking and memory and is often associated with the cognitive decline of aging. Alzheimer’s disease is a common cause of dementia, according to the Center for Disease Control. However, other common causes of dementia are Vascular Dementia and Parkinson’s Disease. In some rare cases dementia-like symptoms can also be caused by vitamin deficiencies or by a brain tumour. Alzheimer’s is a specific form of dementia with symptoms that include impaired thought, speech and general confusion.

What is dementia?

Dementia affects mental tasks, like memory and reasoning – but it’s important to note that just because you’re forgetful, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have dementia.

Diagnosing dementia can be difficult, especially in the early stages. The first doctor to consult would be the GP, who might then refer the patient to a specialist. To reach a diagnosis, the patient might undergo various assessments, including verbal conversations, physical examinations, memory tests, or brain scans.

As dementia progresses, it can have a devastating impact on the patient’s life. People with dementia might struggle to perform normal activities like eating or getting dressed. They might lose their ability to solve problems, and their personalities might change (becoming easily agitated or unable to control their emotions).

What is Alzheimer’s?

Alzheimer’s disease causes about 60% (possibly more) of all dementia cases and usually occurs in later life. Its symptoms include impaired thought, confusion and muddled speech.

Trouble is, Alzheimer’s is difficult to diagnose – and we’re still not sure exactly what causes it. A growing body of research indicates that it could be genetic, but other risk factors might include hypertension, depression or a history of head injuries. A GP or neurologist will only offer a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s after thorough testing, and a full review of the patient’s medical history and symptoms. While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s to date, there are various treatments available to ease the symptoms. Worldwide, research on possible causes and new treatments is progressing rapidly.



The information provided in this article was correct at the time of publishing. At Mediclinic we endeavour to provide our patients and readers with accurate and reliable information, which is why we continually review and update our content. However, due to the dynamic nature of clinical information and medicine, some information may from time to time become outdated prior to revision.

Published in Neurology

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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