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What is the Difference Between Alzheimer’s and Dementia?

March 10, 2022Neelem Sheikh

While the terms are often used interchangeably, there is a major difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Dementia is simply a term used to describe a decline in cognitive abilities that interfere with an individual’s ability to complete basic day-to-day activities, or Activities of Daily Living (ADLs). Dementia is not a specific disease but rather describes a group of symptoms. Alzheimer’s disease, on the other hand, is the most common cause of dementia. In other words, Alzheimer’s disease is a specific disease that causes Alzheimer’s-related dementia. 

Below, we provide more detailed information regarding the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia.

What Is The Difference Between Alzheimer’s and Dementia?

To further explain the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia, we have provided basic information on dementia as well as an overview of Alzheimer’s disease symptoms, risk factors, diagnosis, and treatment.


Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a group of symptoms associated with a decline in memory, reasoning, thinking, or other cognitive functions. These symptoms may include a decline in memory, poor reasoning and judgment skills, changes in thinking or problem-solving abilities, changes in language and communication abilities, and changes in behavior and mood.

Aside from Alzheimer’s disease, there are several other causes of dementia, including the following:

  • Lewy Body dementia
  • Vascular dementia
  • Frontotemporal dementia
  • Mixed dementia
  • Huntington’s disease
  • Parkinson’s disease dementia
  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
  • Posterior cortical atrophy

Alzheimer’s Disease

As previously mentioned, Alzheimer’s disease is the leading cause of dementia, accounting for approximately 60-80% of all dementia cases. Alzheimer’s is a degenerative neurological disease characterized by a gradual decline in neurocognitive function, meaning there is a decline in both cognitive and functional aspects of brain function. 

Earlier stages of the disease may be more biased towards cognitive impairment with small magnitudes of functional impairment. In the later stages of the disease, both cognitive and functional impairments are typically present and can significantly impact an individual’s ability to complete ADLs.


Depending on where an individual lies on the Alzheimer’s disease continuum, a variety of cognitive and functional impairments may be present. 

Cognitive impairments may include changes in:

  • Learning and memory
  • Language 
  • Complex attention
  • Executive functioning
  • Planning
  • Cognitive processing speed
  • Mood and behavior

Functional impairments may include changes in:

  • Speech and articulation
  • Vision and eye movement
  • Gait
  • Fine motor coordination

Risk Factors

Experts believe that Alzheimer’s is not caused by a single factor—instead, Alzheimer’s disease is believed to develop from a combination of several factors, such as genetics, environment, and lifestyle. Non-modifiable risk factors include age, sex, and genetics. Potentially modifiable risk factors include diabetes, midlife hypertension, midlife obesity, smoking, physical inactivity, depression, insufficient sleep, hearing loss, and low educational attainment.


After a doctor detects the presence of cognitive impairment, typically through a conventional neuropsychological assessment, there are several ways that Alzheimer’s disease is diagnosed. Alzheimer’s disease is most commonly characterized by beta-amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles resulting from abnormal tau hyperphosphorylation. These pathologies are typically identified from diagnostic procedures, such as amyloid positron emission scans or cerebrospinal fluid analysis. Alzheimer’s disease can also be diagnosed by assessing the level of atrophy in specific brain regions via magnetic resonance imaging.


Currently, Alzheimer’s disease does not have a cure. However, Aducanumab (Aduhelm) is the first FDA-approved treatment for Alzheimer’s disease to enter the market since 2003 and is the first in the monoclonal antibody therapy class. It aims to remove or reduce amyloid, one of the neuropathological hallmarks of Alzheimer’s, to reduce cognitive and functional decline.

New targets in disease-modifying therapies, aside from amyloid and tau proteins, include neuroprotection, inflammation, mitochondria and metabolic dysfunction, vascular disease, synaptic activity and neurotransmitters, and genetics and epigenetics. 

This wide range of targets will likely enable a more precise, personalized approach to treating Alzheimer’s disease. Every individual’s neurocognitive domain functions are affected uniquely in the presence of Alzheimer’s, meaning the treatment pathways will also likely be unique. Utilizing multiple effective treatments personalized to an individual’s unique impairments will allow for more effective treatment and care.

Altoida’s mission is to accelerate and improve drug development, neurological disease research, and patient care. To learn more about our precision-neurology platform and app-based medical device, contact us!

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