hands of caregiver holding hands of elderly woman

Did you know Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia, only more severe? The two conditions are different, but are often confused with one another. In fact, after a patient who was diagnosed with dementia passes away, it’s not uncommon for the autopsy to reveal they were actually suffering from Alzheimer’s. So how can you know the difference?

What is Dementia?

Dementia is an overall term that describes a wide range of symptoms associated with declining memory or thinking skills. The symptoms include language and attention difficulties, loss of memory, confusion, poor judgment, lack of organization and forgetfulness.

Warning Signs

When someone is diagnosed with dementia, the associated symptoms are typically memory problems and cognitive difficulties that are severe enough to impact daily living. Dr. Robert Stern, the Director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Boston University wrote, “Dementia is not a disease; it is the clinical presentation or symptom of a disease.”


Alzheimer’s has similar symptoms, only they are escalated. The patient may experience rapid and unpredictable changes in mood and personality, seemingly fine one moment, raging with anger the next. They often become reclusive and exercise poor judgment, such as giving large amounts of money to unverified causes or organizations. Language skills decline, leading the patient to use the phrase “hand clock” to describe a watch, for example. They often repeat the same things over and over in a short time span, not remembering saying it before.

What’s the Difference?

The biggest difference with dementia is that reversal is possible if diagnosed early. Unfortunately, since dementia is near impossible to diagnose early on, most cases are too severe to be reversed when diagnosis comes. Alzheimer’s is irreversible and only worsens with time, though advancements are made every day in treating patients who suffer from this disease.

What You Can Do?

If your loved one is showing signs of either condition, it is important to seek medical attention right away. To ensure a correct diagnosis, request blood work and psychological testing. Encourage your doctor to do all the research required to provide an accurate diagnosis.