What’s the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia?

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I get this question way too often, and it means that people are hearing the wrong information, or that it isn’t being explained well.

Here are the facts:

  • There are over 70 different types of dementia.
  • Dementia is an umbrella term.
  • Dementia just means “cognitive loss over time.”
  • Alzheimer’s disease is the MOST COMMON TYPE of dementia.
  • You can have Alzheimer’s and another form of dementia, or you can just have a completely different form of dementia,

If you went to the doctor and she said, “You have cancer,” you’d say, “Oh no, what type of cancer?” This should be the same question that you ask if you hear your loved one has dementia. You should say, “What type of dementia is it?” 

Like cancer, dementia is an umbrella term. Saying “Alzheimer’s and dementia” in the same sentence is like saying, “Skin cancer and cancer.” Everyone knows that skin cancer is a form of cancer, but, for some reason, people think that Alzheimer’s is a totally different thing than dementia. It’s not. Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia.

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Rachael Wonderlin has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of two published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. She owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting company.

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