Alzheimer's disease Brain Mental health The Memory Doctor

Is it dementia or Alzheimer’s?

Man looking out of the window
Dr. Nathan Herrmann

As a memory disorders specialist, this is one of the most common questions I get asked, and I’m often unsure which of these labels frightens people most. The answer to their question however, is: It’s likely both.

Dementia refers to a group of illnesses that cause cognitive problems (e.g. memory, language impairment) that are serious enough to affect daily functioning.

To explain the difference, I like to compare dementia to the common cold – an illness that is caused by hundreds of different specific viruses. Alzheimer’s disease is one of the specific causes of dementia, and by far, the most common cause. In fact, well over two-thirds of cases of dementia in people over age 65 will be caused by Alzheimer’s disease, and even more cases in which Alzheimer’s disease pathology is mixed with other causes.

It is important for doctors to figure out what causes the dementia, because treatment and the course of dementia can be influenced by the cause.

About the author

Dr. Nathan Herrmann

Dr. Nathan Herrmann

Dr. Nathan Herrmann holds the Lewar Chair in Geriatric Psychiatry and is Head of the Division of Geriatric Psychiatry at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. For 25 years, Dr. Nathan Herrmann has been a memory disorders specialist. He has done research in the fields of mental health in the aging, including dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, and suicide. Read his blog series: The Memory Doctor.