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Alzheimer’s or dementia - what is it?

Updated: Nov 17, 2023

It pays to know if it’s Alzheimer’s or Dementia

"What’s the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s?” It’s one of the most common questions we get asked by Our service users, their family and friends. Physicians seem to prefer the word “dementia,” possibly because Alzheimer’s have become such a loaded word. “Dementia” somehow sounds less frightening to many people, and now even the experts have started using the words interchangeably. They aren’t interchangeable. Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia are two very different things. As someone who is dedicated to learning about Dementia care, I like to reassure and simplify the definition so Caregivers and Family members can easily relate to it as an illness that can be managed.

Dementia is a symptom. Pain is a symptom, and many different injuries and illnesses can cause pain. When you go to the doctor because you hurt, you won’t be satisfied if the doctor diagnoses “pain” and sends you home. You want to know what is causing the pain, and how to treat it.

“Dementia” is simply a symptom of deteriorating intellectual abilities resulting from an unspecified disease or disorder of the brain.

Alzheimer’s Disease is one disease/disorder that causes dementia. Many other illnesses or “syndromes” can also cause dementia. Parkinson’s Disease can cause dementia. A stroke can cause dementia. Even dehydration can cause dementia. Many of the things that can cause dementia are treatable, even potentially curable. If you have taken your Parent to the doctor and received a diagnosis of “dementia” you haven’t received a diagnosis at all. Unless you know what is causing dementia you can’t begin to treat its root cause.

If your physician has diagnosed “dementia” it’s time for a second opinion:

You are probably dealing either with a physician who is not comfortable with the truth, or one who doesn’t know how (or doesn’t want to bother) to differentiate between all the possible causes of dementia. Either way, a skilled geriatrician or a neurologist who is highly experienced in dealing with older people would be a good place to start.

Get a second opinion if unsure, seek help and advice from places like DementiaUK and Alzheimer’s Society or government website like are all a good place to start, but most importantly take one day at a time.


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