What’s the Difference? Debunking Dementia and Alzheimer’s

Not sure what’s the difference between dementia and Alzheimer's disease? You are not alone. While dementia and Alzheimer’s may seem to be similar in nature since many terms are used interchangeably between these two, they are also remarkably different.

by Deborah Yaw

Have you ever come across someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s? In Malaysia alone, it is reported that about 123,000 individuals were diagnosed with dementia in 2015 and that number is set to triple in the next 12 years.

The misconception out there is that dementia and Alzheimer’s are two separate conditions, but in actual fact, Alzheimer’s falls under the umbrella of dementia.


Dementia is known to be a syndrome and not a disease, as misinterpreted by many. A syndrome is a group of symptoms that does not have a definitive diagnosis. This group of symptoms affects mental cognitive tasks such as memory loss and impaired reasoning.

People often overlook the signs of dementia because the symptoms start mild. It often begins with a forgetfulness which progresses over time to struggling to keep track of time, places and faces of the people they once used to recognize.

Individuals can have more than one type of dementia which is known as mixed dementia, and at least one in every ten people with dementia is diagnosed as having more than one type. Mixed dementia, also known as vascular dementia is more common in older age groups such as those over 75 years.

Alzheimer’s – A Specific Form of Dementia

50-70% of dementia cases come from individuals with Alzheimer’s. Characterised by progressive brain cell death, some symptoms of Alzheimer’s include confusion and impaired speech and thought. Individuals with Alzheimer’s find it difficult to remember learning new information because Alzheimer’s causes changes in the part of the brain that affects learning.

The cause is unknown and there is no cure available at the moment.

What are some differences between dementia and Alzheimer’s?

One other major difference between the two is that Alzheimer’s is irreversible, while other forms of dementia, such as a drug interaction or a vitamin deficiency, are actually reversible or temporary.

Support In Malaysia

For those who are caring for individuals with dementia or Alzheimer’s, you can reach out to associations like the Alzheimer’s Disease Foundation Malaysia and Caring With You, where you can share, connect and empower other caregivers who are also taking care of loved ones with dementia or Alzheimer’s.

  1. National Institute on Aging. (2017). What is dementia? Symptoms, types and diagnosis. Retrieved from https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/what-dementia-symptoms-types-and-diagnosis 
  2. National Institute on Aging. (2017). What is mixed dementia? Causes and diagnosis. Retrieved from https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/what-mixed-dementia-causes-and-diagnosis

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About the Writer
Deborah Yaw
Deborah believes that everyone has a story worth telling. Has a serious appreciation for good movies, music and spicy food.
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