The terms “dementia” and “Alzheimer’s disease” can be confusing. Many people believe they are synonymous, but the two words mean different things.

Dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia. Alzheimer’s is a specific disease. Dementia is not.

Learning about the two terms and the difference between them is important and can empower individuals with Alzheimer’s or another dementia, their families and their caregivers with necessary knowledge.

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Dementia overview

Dementia describes a group of symptoms associated with a decline in memory, reasoning or other thinking skills. Many different types of dementia exist, and many conditions cause it. Alzheimer's disease accounts for 60 percent to 80 percent of dementia cases.

Dementia is not a normal part of aging. It is caused by damage to brain cells that affects their ability to communicate, which can affect thinking, behavior and feelings.

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Alzheimer’s overview

Alzheimer’s is a degenerative brain disease that is caused by complex brain changes following cell damage. It leads to dementia symptoms that gradually worsen over time. The most common early symptom of Alzheimer’s is trouble remembering new information because the disease typically impacts the part of the brain associated with learning first.

As Alzheimer’s advances, symptoms get more severe and include disorientation, confusion and behavior changes. Eventually, speaking, swallowing and walking become difficult. There is no way to prevent, cure or even slow Alzheimer’s disease.

Though the greatest known risk factor for Alzheimer’s is increasing age, the disease is not a normal part of aging. And though most people with Alzheimer’s are 65 and older, approximately 200,000 Americans under 65 have younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

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Help and support are available

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's or another dementia, you are not alone. The Alzheimer's Association is the trusted resource for reliable information, education, referral and support to millions of people affected by the disease.