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What’s the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s disease?

Dementia advice

Hundreds of thousands of people in the UK are living with dementia, and more than one million people are expected to have a diagnosis by 2025. Nearly all of us have a personal connection to dementia or know someone who does.

Despite how common dementia is, many myths and misconceptions remain. A recent study found that a fifth of adults wrongly believe Alzheimer’s and dementia are the same thing.

At Care UK, we believe it’s important to create a more dementia-friendly community, so whether you’ve just received a diagnosis, are looking for an Alzheimer’s care home or are simply curious to learn more, we’d encourage you to keep reading to discover more about the different types of dementia.

 What is dementia?

The word dementia refers not to one specific condition, but rather a set of symptoms that affect the brain. It’s important to remember that dementia isn’t caused by normal ageing. 

There are numerous types of dementia, but these four are the most common: Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies and frontotemporal dementia. 

 What is Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. It’s a physical condition that occurs when the connections between nerve cells in the brain are lost. 

Common symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease include problems with memory, thinking and language. It often begins with mild memory loss and progressively leads to a person’s loss of ability to carry on a conversation and respond to the environment around them. Read more about the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.  

What are the other common types of dementia?

Vascular dementia

The second-most-common type of dementia is vascular dementia. This is linked with strokes and other problems with blood flow to the brain. 

Early signs of vascular dementia include trouble problem solving or making decisions, difficulties concentrating, or problems following a series of steps. These vary depending on the area of the brain impacted. 

There are three different types of vascular dementia:

  • Multi-infarct dementia – caused by a series of small strokes or transient ischaemic attacks (TIA), which are like strokes
  • Subcortical vascular dementia – the most common type, caused by diseases of the blood vessels in the brain
  • Stroke-related dementia – caused when blood supply is suddenly cut off to an area of the brain due to a stroke

Lewy body dementia

Dementia with Lewy bodies is caused by Lewy body disease, which is closely related to Parkinson’s disease. About one in 10 people with dementia has dementia with Lewy bodies, according to the Alzheimer’s Society.

Lewy bodies are clumps of protein in the cells of the brain. It’s not known why these build up or how they cause dementia, but they reduce levels of chemicals that send messages in the brain and break the connection between nerve cells. 

Early signs include difficulty staying focused and problems with movement or balance. Many of the symptoms are similar to those of Parkinson’s disease. People living with this form of dementia may also have trouble sleeping, experience visual hallucinations, have changes in their alertness and experience confusion.

Frontotemporal dementia

Although it’s one of the main types of dementia, frontotemporal dementia is much less common. It is also called Pick’s disease or frontal lobe dementia, and it occurs when nerve cells in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain are damaged.

Because of the part of the brain affected, signs of frontotemporal dementia include changes in personality and behaviour, or problems with language like speaking or understanding.

There are two types of frontotemporal dementia:

  • Behavioural variant FTD – when damage to the frontal lobes, which control how we behave and our emotions, causes problems with behaviour and personality
  • Primary progressive aphasia – when damage to the temporal lobes, a part of the brain that has many roles including storing the meanings of words and recognising familiar faces, causes language problems

In the early stages, many people still remember recent events, but as it is a progressive condition, symptoms worsen over time. In the later stages, symptoms are similar to the later stages of other types of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Mixed dementia

If more than one type of dementia is present in the brain at the same time, a person can have mixed dementia. It’s most common to have Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia at the same time.

People with more than one condition tend to be over 80 years old, and they have more severe symptoms that progress quickly.

Young onset dementia

When dementia symptoms develop before the age of 65, this is referred to as young onset dementia, also known as early onset dementia or working age dementia. This accounts for about 5% of people with dementia, according to Dementia UK.

The early signs of a younger person living with dementia often include behavioural changes rather than memory problems, and it’s common for them to be attributed to other causes, leading to a delay in diagnosis.


How do I know what type of dementia I have?

If you or a loved one have the early signs of dementia, a GP or a specialist can help with a diagnosis. This will not only help you understand what is going on and rule out other treatable causes of symptoms, but an early diagnosis gives you the opportunity to access information, treatment and support from the start, and to prepare and plan for the future.

There is no single test that can tell you whether you have dementia, but a specialist can investigate by taking details of your life history and symptoms.                                            


How are Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias treated?

Dementia is a condition that can be managed to ensure those living with it can continue to lead fulfilling, meaningful lives. As a progressive condition, dementia will gradually worsen over time, but there are lifestyle changes and treatments that can slow the symptoms.

Discover more about how to live well with dementia in our new video guide, One step at a time.

How Care UK cares for people living with Alzheimer's and other dementias

At Care UK, we're here to help you throughout your journey with dementia. Our colleagues receive training to learn what it's like to live with dementia. They understand the importance of person-centred dementia care, so they tailor each resident's care to their unique needs.

We work with academic partners and dementia experts to ensure everything from our dining experience to the activities we offer align with the highest dementia standards, and our Dementia Champions support this in each home.

Find your local care home and give them a call for more information. 


Yes, there are many types of dementia, but Alzheimer’s is the most common. Other common types are vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia and frontotemporal dementia.

There are many signs that someone is living with Alzheimer’s or another fo, but each person’s experience is unique. Memory problems, difficulty concentrating or planning, confusion and trouble communicating are some of the most common signs. Read more about understanding dementia behaviours here.

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