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Distinguishing Different Types of Dementia

Dementia is defined as “a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life.”  Dementia isn’t a disease in itself, but rather a term used to describe a wide variety of symptoms associated with memory impairment and thinking ability.

Symptoms of dementia can vary greatly, but at least two of the following must be significantly impaired to be considered dementia:

  • Memory
  • Communication and language
  • Ability to focus and pay attention
  • Reasoning and judgment
  • Visual perception

Dementia is caused by damage to brain cells. There are many different types of dementia.  The affected region of the brain determines the type.

TYPES OF DEMENTIA

Alzheimer’s Disease (AD)
This is the most common type of dementia.  It accounts for 60 to 80 percent of all cases. Patients with AD have difficulty remembering recent conversations, names and events, and are often depressed.  As the disease progresses, patients suffer from impaired communication, disorientation, confusion, and difficulty speaking, swallowing and walking. AD is not a normal part of aging, despite the fact that the majority of cases occur in patients over 65 years of age.  It is a progressive disease, where symptoms worsen over time.  There is no cure for Alzheimer’s.

Vascular dementia
Vascular dementia, once known as multi-infarct or post-stroke dementia, is less common than Alzheimer’s, accounting for about 10 percent of dementia cases.  It usually occurs after a stroke.  Blood flow to the brain is impaired, which then damages brain cells. Memory loss may or may not occur in vascular dementia.  Other symptoms include confusion, disorientation and difficulty speaking.  Controlling risk factors such as diet, exercise and smoking can lessen the chances for a stroke, thus decreasing risk for developing vascular dementia.

Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB)
Dementia with Lewy bodies is the third most common cause of dementia, accounting for 10 to 25 percent of cases. People with DLB often have memory loss and thinking problems common in Alzheimer’s, but are more likely to have early symptoms such as sleep disturbances, visual hallucinations, and gait imbalance.  Symptoms are similar to those in Parkinson’s Disease.   And while they are different diseases, many experts believe that DLB and Parkinson’s are two different expressions of the same underlying problem of the brain’s inability to process the protein alpha-synuclein. Current strategies focus on helping symptoms, since there are no treatments that slow or stop the brain cell damage.

Mixed dementia
Mixed dementia is a condition in which characteristics of more than one type of dementia occur simultaneously. Researchers don’t know how many adults currently diagnosed with a form of dementia actually have mixed dementia.  However, autopsies have shown that Mixed Dementia is more prevalent than previously thought.  Because MD can’t be diagnosed until an autopsy is done, many patients are treated for the symptoms associated with their dominant dementia.

Parkinson’s Disease Dementia (PDD)
PDD is an impairment in thinking and reasoning that eventually affects adults with Parkinson’s disease.  Common symptoms include muffled speech, delusions, depression, irritability, memory changes and sleep disturbances.  Like other types of dementia that destroy brain cells, Parkinson’s disease dementia symptoms get worse over time and speed of progression varies with each individual.

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD)
FTD refers to a group of disorders caused by progressive nerve cell loss in the brain’s frontal lobes (behind your forehead) and its temporal lobes (behind your ears). Thus the symptoms suffered are as a result of damage to these lobes.  Typical symptoms include changes in personality and behavior, difficulty with language, and alterations in muscle or motor functions. FTD can be diagnosed with medical imaging tests, although there are no treatments for the disease.  Any treatments used are to improve quality of life.  They usually include medications that reduce agitation, irritability and depression.

There are other less common types of dementias.  If you or a loved one is experiencing difficulty with memory or other changes in thinking skills, don’t ignore the symptoms. See a doctor as soon as possible to determine the cause.  Only a professional can evaluate and detect a potentially treatable condition.

Many families whose relatives have been diagnosed with Dementia rely on professional help such as Inspired Care Home Health for their loved ones.  For more information on how we can customize care for your family members, give us a call at 847-787-7572.