Alzheimer’s vs dementia – what’s the difference?

The two are often confused, leading to unnecessary worry – here’s the difference.

Key Points

  • Dementia and Alzheimer’s are not the same thing
  • Dementia is an overall term used to describe a range of symptoms and conditions associated with cognitive decline and memory loss
  • Alzheimer’s is a specific disease that accounts for 60-80% of dementia cases

A few years ago, the organisation Alzheimer’s Australia changed its name to Dementia Australia. It wasn’t a flashy rebranding exercise but an opportunity to take on a name that better reflected one of the key challenges of ageing. As the second leading cause of death affecting half a million Australians in 2021, it is important that we better understand this scourge.

In summary, dementia is the overall term, like heart disease, that covers a range of symptoms associated with loss of memory and cognitive decline. They also affect behaviour, feelings and relationships.

Alzheimer’s, on the other hand, is a disease that causes dementia and accounts for 60-80% of dementia cases.


Dementia refers to symptoms that are the result of a deterioration of brain function. Dementia is often incorrectly referred to as "senility" or "senile dementia," which reflects the formerly widespread but incorrect belief that serious mental decline is a normal part of aging.

Symptoms include:

  • loss of memory,
  • problems with thinking, learning, memory and language,
  • behavioural and emotional problems, and
  • difficulties performing daily activities.

The most common forms of dementia are:

  • vascular dementia,
  • dementia with Lewy bodies,
  • dementia from Parkinson’s disease,
  • frontotemporal dementia,
  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, and
  • Alzheimer’s disease.

People may have two or more types of dementia. This is called mixed dementia.

Chief Advocate Ian Henschke speaks to Sky News about aged care and the vaccine

Alzheimer’s disease

Aged Care Employee Day #Thanksforcaring

Aged Care Employee Day, on Saturday August 7, is an opportunity for aged care residents and their families to say “thanks for caring” to the dedicated 360,000 aged care staff all around Australia.

According to National Seniors CEO, Professor John McCallum, aged care workers have a strong commitment to providing quality care and recent evidence suggests the quality of this care is improving.

“People do this sort of work because they enjoy caring for older people and caring for people who have needs,” Professor McCallum said.

So, if you see an aged care worker over the coming weeks, why not show them you care, by saying, “Thanks for caring.”

You can get involved by promoting the #Thanksforcaring on social media or download and print posters from the website in the lead up to the big day.

You can also post videos on the website if you are unable to enter an aged care facility due to COVID restrictions.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common condition that causes dementia.

People who have Alzheimer’s disease have abnormal structures, called ‘plaques’ and ‘tangles’, build up in the brain. These disrupt nerve cells and affect the way they communicate with each other. Eventually the nerve cells die.

Alzheimer’s usually begins with mild memory loss. Other symptoms include:

  • having trouble recalling events,
  • difficulty learning new things,
  • trouble finding the right word,
  • trouble solving problems,
  • trouble making decisions,
  • difficulty perceiving three-dimensional objects, or
  • being irritable.

The symptoms can become more severe, and new symptoms may appear. Eventually, people with Alzheimer’s disease may need around-the-clock support.

Is there a cure?

While both dementia and Alzheimer’s are associated with the cognitive decline that often accompanies ageing, they are not considered a normal part of ageing.

Other forms of dementia and Alzheimer’s get worse over time, and unfortunately there is no cure. Medications are sometimes used in the treatment of dementia, but they can only slow the condition’s progress or treat symptoms; they will not cure dementia. More information about dementia and Alzheimer’s, and available support, is available here.