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.