Understanding the Types of Dementia

Author: Jacqueline Hatch

| Posted on: December,09 | Viewed: 2387 times

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With over 100 different types of dementia existing today, it can be difficult to tell them apart. We created this guide to educate you on the most common forms of dementia and their symptoms, and outline treatment options such as memory care that may help with managing the disease.

Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, currently affecting 5.1 million people in the United States. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “Alzheimer's is a progressive disease, where dementia symptoms gradually worsen over a number of years. In its early stages, memory loss is mild, but with late-stage Alzheimer's, individuals lose the ability to carry on a conversation and respond to their environment.” It is important to notice the cognitive impairment signs early on so you can know how to move forward with memory care treatment. This article from Seniorly outlines the kinds of memory impairment that may lead to cognitive decline down the road.

Treatment methods and medication can help manage the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, but they cannot cure or slow the progression of the disease. “Those with Alzheimer's live an average of eight years after their symptoms become noticeable to others, but survival can range from four to 20 years, depending on age and other health conditions.” If you have a family history of Alzheimer’s disease and want to learn how to remain mentally sharp as you age, check out these suggestions for lifelong learning and memory care from the Seniorly team. 

Vascular Dementia

According to Mayo Clinic, “Vascular dementia is a general term describing problems with reasoning, planning, judgment, memory and other thought processes caused by brain damage from impaired blood flow to your brain.” Vascular dementia usually occurs in seniors as a result of a stroke, but can also occur due to other health complications that damage blood vessels in the brain.

The main way to treat vascular dementia in seniors is by working to prevent new strokes. Medscape describes drug treatment as being used to “prevent further worsening of vascular dementia by treating the underlying disease such as hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and diabetes mellitus.” However, older adults with vascular dementia can also benefit from “referral to community services, judgment and decision-making regarding legal and ethical issues (eg, driving competency, advance directives), and consideration of caregiver stress.” To find a supportive senior housing community that specializes in memory care for your loved one with dementia, visit Seniorly.  

Lewy Body Dementia

Lewy Body Dementia “affects an estimated 1.4 million individuals and their families in the United States.” However, it is often underdiagnosed due to a lack of awareness about the disease. According to the Lewy Body Dementia Association, “LBD is caused by abnormal deposits of a protein called alpha-synuclein in the brain. These deposits, called Lewy bodies, can lead to problems with thinking, movement, behavior, and mood.” Similar to Alzheimer’s disease, Lewy Body Dementia can cause involuntary personality changes in a loved one, a shortened attention span, hallucinations, tremors, sleep problems and memory impairment.

While there is currently no cure for Lewy Body Dementia, there are medications and treatment methods that help manage symptoms. “LBD refers to both Parkinson’s disease dementia and dementia with Lewy bodies...Over time, people with both diagnoses will develop very similar cognitive, physical, sleep, and behavioral symptoms.” Some people with Lewy Body Dementia experience significant improvements with therapy and medication, while others are less fortunate. To make a difference in the future of dementia care, you can donate to Lewy Body Dementia research.

Parkinson’s Disease

The National Parkinson Foundation describes Parkinson’s disease as “a neurodegenerative brain disorder that progresses slowly in most people...In short, a person’s brain slowly stops producing a neurotransmitter called dopamine. With less and less dopamine, a person has less and less ability to regulate their movements, body and emotions.” People diagnosed with Parkinson’s can live for years with the disease, though symptoms and complications are serious.

The most noticeable changes are the motor-systems:

  • Bradykinesia - aka slow movement.

  • Tremors - Involuntary shaking.

  • Stiff Limbs - On one or both sides of the body.

  • Postural instability - Balance problems, falls, problems walking, etc.

There is no cure for Parkinson’s Disease. However, treatment and therapy may help alleviate symptoms. Medication, surgery, and lifestyle modifications have all been proven to help people with Parkinson’s Disease embrace memory care options that may lead to better quality of life. 

Mixed Dementia

Mixed Dementia is the term used to describe people with a combination of different types of dementia. There is still a lot of research to be done in determining diagnosis and treatment methods for people with multiple brain disorders.

Frontotemporal Dementia

According to the National Institute on Aging (a branch of NIH), “Frontotemporal disorders are a form of dementia caused by a family of brain diseases known as frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD). These disorders are the result of damage to neurons (nerve cells) in parts of the brain called the frontal and temporal lobes. As neurons die in the frontal and temporal regions, these lobes atrophy, or shrink.” This type of damage gradually causes significant changes with thinking, memory and behaviors. Symptoms include personality changes, emotional instability, communication issues, as well as mobility impairment and more.  

Treatment for frontotemporal dementia varies from speech therapy to antidepressant and antipsychotic medications. Although these medications were originally developed to treat depression, the FTD patient’s lack of dopamine mean that these medications can also help alleviate some of the symptoms of the brain disorder. If you have a loved one with FTD, speaking to a trained physician can help you discover what type of treatment may be the best option for your family.

Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke describes Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) as “a rare, degenerative, invariably fatal brain disorder.” Symptoms are said to occur around age 60, with 90 percent of patients dying within one year of the disease’s onset. Symptoms may include memory impairment, personality changes, mobility impairment, blindness, weak limbs, etc. This is one of the most rapidly progressive dementias, meaning that it leads to quick mental deterioration.

MRIs can help physicians with a diagnosis of CJD, however, the only way to confirm a diagnosis is through brain biopsy or autopsy. There is currently no treatment that can cure CJD. However, opiate drugs may be used to alleviate pain, and caregiver support in memory care senior living communities can assist the patient with ADLs (activities of daily living).

Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, “Normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH) is an abnormal buildup of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in the brain's ventricles, or cavities. It occurs if the normal flow of CSF throughout the brain and spinal cord is blocked in some way. This causes the ventricles to enlarge, putting pressure on the brain.”

Treatment for people with NPH includes a procedure in which a surgeon will place a “shunt in the brain to drain excess CSF into the abdomen where it can be absorbed as part of the normal circulatory process.” The patient must schedule regular follow-up appointments with a physician to monitor the disorder over time. Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial to recovery.

Huntington’s Disease

The Huntington’s Disease Society of America describes Huntington’s as, “a fatal genetic disorder that causes the progressive breakdown of nerve cells in the brain. It deteriorates a person’s physical and mental abilities during their prime working years and has no cure.” Symptoms include personality changes, forgetfulness, involuntary movements, and speech impairments.

Fortunately, “In 1993, researchers identified the gene that causes HD. Since then, research has moved quickly towards developing treatments and, ultimately, a cure.” Genetic testing can help families with a history of Huntington's plan and prepare for the future, as children of HD parents will have a 50/50 chance of inheriting the HD gene. You can also donate to research efforts for Huntington’s Disease.

Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome

The Family Caregiver Alliance site explains that “WKS is caused by a deficiency in the B vitamin thiamine. Thiamine plays a role in metabolizing glucose to produce energy for the brain. An absence of thiamine therefore results in an inadequate supply of energy to the brain, particularly the hypothalamus (which regulates body temperature, growth and appetite and has a role in emotional response).”

This particular disease is generally associated with alcoholism, but may also be a result of other conditions such as malnutrition, which cause harmful nutritional deficiencies in the body. Treatment includes “maintenance with oral thiamine to prevent further insult, as well as consideration for rehabilitation, treatment of comorbid deficiencies and medical conditions, and consideration of the need for long-term residential care or supportive accommodation.”

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If your loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia, you are not alone. There are 35.6 million people living with dementia worldwide, and this number is expected to double in the coming years. Risk factors include poor cardiovascular health, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, high cholesterol, obesity, and smoking. If you have a family history of dementia and want to limit your risk factors for the disease, lifestyle changes to improve memory care and regular visits to the doctor can help you monitor your well-being and remain mentally healthy as you age.

If you have a loved one who is in need of memory care, Seniorly.com is full of senior housing communities that specialize in memory care for those with Alzheimer's and other related dementias. We’re happy to help online or on the phone. Email us at ask@seniorly.com or call us at (415) 570-4370 today!


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