Dementia and Alzheimer’s: Understanding the Key Differences

Dementia and Alzheimer's: Understanding the Key Differences

Umbrellas are so useful – and not just when it’s raining! ‘Umbrella terms’ allow us to talk about a general concept before naming a specific example: 

  • Fruit is an umbrella term that covers apples, bananas and pears
  • Dogs is the umbrella term for all breeds, including spaniels, labradors and terriers
  • Sport is an umbrella term for tennis, football and boxing. 

That brings us to dementia and Alzheimer’s. Though the terms are often used interchangeably, they do not mean the same thing. 

Dementia is an umbrella term for a collection of symptoms that affect people’s ability to perform everyday activities on their own. Alzheimer’s is one type of dementia. 

To put it another way, dementia isn’t just Alzheimer’s, and Alzheimer’s isn’t the only form of dementia. 

What is dementia?

Dementia is not a specific disease. It’s a collection of symptoms caused by disorders affecting the brain, which may lead to: 

  • Decline in memory
  • Changes in thinking skills
  • Lapses in judgement and poor reasoning
  • Reduced focus and attention
  • Changed behaviour.

Dementia has been with us for hundreds of years but it was relatively rare before the 20th century, as few people lived into old age. 

Over 100 different diseases may cause dementia – it is most certainly not a normal part of ageing. The most common causes of dementia are: 

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Vascular dementia
  • Dementia with Lewy bodies. 

In 2023, there are estimated to be around 400,000 Australians living with dementia. Two-thirds of them live in the community, and estimates suggest that 1.5 million people are involved in caring for them. It’s the second leading cause of death in Australia. 

Some risk factors for dementia cannot be changed – things like your family history, age or genetics. However you can reduce some risk factors by changing your lifestyle to improve your physical and mental health.  

What is Alzheimer’s?

Alzheimer’s disease is by far the most common cause of dementia. Nearly 70% of people with dementia have Alzheimer’s. 

Alzheimer’s is a brain condition that progressively impairs memory, thinking and behaviour due to a build-up of certain proteins in the brain. As the brain declines, patients may forget many important things, including how to manage personal hygiene and safety. As such, patients in the later stages of the disease often need round-the-clock care. 

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease include: 

  • Losing interest in hobbies or activities you used to enjoy
  • Becoming less willing to try new things
  • Finding it harder to adapt when things change
  • Losing track of conversation
  • Finding it hard to do complex tasks like shopping, preparing meals or managing money. 

There is (as yet) no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Treatment includes medication to improve the brain’s communication mechanisms and slow disease progression. A number of other medications or therapies can help to manage symptoms such as sleeplessness, depression, anxiety or agitation. 

Brain-based therapies for Alzheimer’s disease

Non-invasive, brain-based therapies may have therapeutic benefits for people with Alzheimer’s. 

Transcranial direct current stimulation therapy (tDCS) Exercise therapy Photobiomodulation therapy (PBM)
This stimulates specific parts of the brain to increase or decrease activity. 

In Alzheimer’s, tDCS may help to improve cognitive function and the ability to recognise faces, remember words and put names to faces.

Exercise may have many benefits as an Alzheimer’s therapy, including: 

  • Slowing disease progression
  • Improving cognitive function 
  • Improving mood and sleep. 


This uses red or near-infrared light to improve cell function.  PBM may improve cognitive function and reduce anxiety or depression (extremely common in those with Alzheimer’s).

How can Neurofit Brain Centre help?

At Neurofit, we recognise that brain activity makes an active difference. That’s why we provide a number of brain-based therapies to support people living with Alzheimer’s. 

We’re registered healthcare professionals who start with a comprehensive assessment of your condition. Then, we recommend targeted therapies to help improve your brain function, such as PBD, tDCS or exercise. 

We’d love to help you. Please book an assessment


All information is general and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Neurofit Brain Centre can consult with you to confirm if a particular treatment approach is right for you.