Alzheimer’s and dementia — the differences explained

Dementia or Alzheimer's DiseaseThe terms Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are often used interchangeably. However, both terms refer to two different things.

What is dementia?

Dementia is the overall term for several symptoms related to a decline in cognitive (thinking) skills. Dementia is known as a symptom of disease, and not a normal part of ageing. There are over 100 diseases that cause dementia.

A quick glance at some statistics shows that:

  • by 2050, around 900,000 Australians are expected to suffer from dementia
  • each week 1,800 new cases are diagnosed, with this expected to increase to 7,400 by 2050
  • dementia is the second leading cause of death in Australia
  • 30 per cent of people over 85 years have it
  • there is no cure for dementia.

 Those with dementia can display a range of symptoms including, gradual loss of memory, problems with reasoning or judgement, disorientation, difficulty in learning, loss of language skills, and a reduced ability to perform everyday tasks.

Sufferers may also display changes in their behavior. They may become agitated, anxious, aggressive and may even suffer from delusions or hallucinations.

What is Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is a the most common cause of dementia. Pronounced AHLZ-hi-merz, this progressive disease of the brain was first described in 1906 by German physician Dr Alois Alzheimer.

There are two types of Alzheimer’s disease:

  • Sporadic Alzheimer’s disease — is the most common type of Alzheimer’s and usually occurs over the age of 65.
  • Familial Alzheimer’s disease — this is rare and is caused by a genetic mutation. Symptoms often appear from the age of 40 or 50 years.

Dementia or Alzheimer's diseaseWhile the exact cause of Alzheimer’s disease is not yet known, scientists believe that it may be caused by a combination of genetic, lifestyle and environmental factors that affect the brain over time.

Can Alzheimer’s disease and dementia be prevented?

While not all cases of Alzheimer’s disease are preventable, there are some risk factors. Some of them you can control and some of them you cannot.

Uncontrollable risk factors:

  • Age — your risk increases with age
  • Genetics — some forms of Alzheimer’s are related to genetic risk

Controllable risk factors

  • Brain activity — challenging your brain with mentally stimulating activities is associated with a lower risk, as is participating in social activities and being connected with others
  • Diet — a healthy diet (with low to moderate alcohol intake), is associated with better brain health
  • Physical activity — regular exercise promotes brain health and reduces the risk of cognitive decline and dementia
  • Weight — being obese in midlife increases your risk
  • Heart risk factors — untreated high blood pressure and a history of high cholesterol is associated with a greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s
  • Diabetes — developing type 2 diabetes midlife increases your risk
  • Smoking — smoking (including passive smoking) puts you at a higher risk

Get an early diagnosis

There is no doubt receiving a diagnosis of dementia can be difficult. However, the earlier a diagnosis is made, the easier it is for the patient and family to accept and begin to make plans for the future.

If you are concerned that you or a family member are showing signs of dementia, speak to your doctor as soon as possible.


Further information: Alzheimer’s Australia.


Forget fad diets: portions are the go

Spaghetti with salmon

Dietitians are calling on Australians to start the New Year with a bang by making this year’s resolution to forget fad diets and instead aim for perfect portions.

A new survey of 1,230 Australians, commissioned by the Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA), found about half of all adults aged 18 to 64 (54%) are unhappy with their current weight[i].

DAA will soon launch its annual Australia’s Healthy Weight Week (AHWW) campaign (15-21 February) to make it easier for all Aussies to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

According to the peak body for dietitians, eating the right amount, rather than piling up the plate, is a key way to reduce your kilojoule intake and manage your weight.

‘We all know fad diets come and go, and usually end in failure. So rather than starting the diet merry-go-round this year, make your New Year’s resolution about being more aware of the right portion sizes and how much you’re eating,’ said DAA Spokesperson and AHWW ambassador Professor Clare Collins.

Professor Collins said getting back into the kitchen for more home-cooked meals and keeping a check on how much you serve yourself and your family is a good place to start.

But according to Professor Collins, there’s more to this story.

‘Research shows that substituting vegetables, and other low-kilojoule, nutrient-rich foods, for those that are ‘energy-dense’ is the way to go. This helps to fill you up, without tipping the scales in the wrong direction.

‘Aim for 2-3 or more cups of vegetables or salad a day. At the moment, most Aussie get nowhere near that. So a simple step when cooking at home is to start your meal with a salad or add an extra serve of vegetables to your main meal. Let vegetables fill at least half your plate,’ said Professor Collins, an Accredited Practising Dietitian.

Professor Collins’ research[ii] has found Australians typically overestimate portion sizes, especially for foods like pasta (a guide good is about a cup) and chocolate (should be no bigger than half a small chocolate bar), compared to what health authorities recommend, and this can lead to ‘kilo creep’ over time.

‘When there’s more food on the plate or when we use bigger plates and bowls, we eat more. The difference between one and two cups of pasta at dinner is around 870kJ. If you eat a double portion size on a daily basis those extra kilojoules could see you gain around 1-2 kilos a month if you don’t burn this off doing extra exercise.

‘To eat less without thinking about it, switch to using smaller plates so you don’t notice you’re serving yourself less food,’ said Professor Collins.

healthy wrapThe DAA survey found that already 26 per cent of Australians said they would review their portion sizes.

‘The challenge is to get everyone to use simple, pain-free strategies – such as smaller plates, greater proportions of vegetables and cooking more at home – to help manage weight,’ said Professor Collins.

Award-winning celebrity cook, Callum Hann, and Accredited Practising Dietitian, Themis Chryssidis (both from Sprout), are supporting this year’s Australia’s Healthy Weight Week, teaching Australians about home cooking and choosing the right portions sizes.

Hundreds of health-focused events, including nutrition workshops and cooking classes, are being held around the country to mark the week. Find out what’s on near you, and get nutrition tips and recipes, at

Prepared by a Press Release from the Dietitians Association of Australia



 [i] Omnipoll survey (October 2015) of 1,230 Australians adults aged 18-64 years, commissioned by the Dietitians Association of Australia.

[ii] Collins CE et al. How big is a food portion? A pilot study in Australian Families. Health Promotion Journal of Australia (2015): 26, 83–88.

[iii] Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2015). National Health Survey: First Results, 2014-15. Retrieved on December 16 2015 from

[iv] Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2014). Australian Health Survey: Nutrition First Results – Foods and Nutrients, 2011-2012. Retrieved from