Worldwide, there are more than 47 million people living with dementia.
Primarily associated with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia can be caused by a number of disorders and conditions. In some cases, treating the underlying issue is enough to clear dementia. But in other cases, dementia is untreatable.
Knowing the different types of dementia means getting the right therapies and medications. When your loved one is exhibiting symptoms of untreatable dementia, identifying it now allows you to plan the best future.
Keep reading to learn more about the different types of dementia and how to recognize them.
What is Dementia?
What used to be thought of as a product of getting old, researchers now have a deeper understanding of “senility” and what happens to our brains as we age. Although dementia affects older people more often than not, it’s not a normal part of aging.
In fact, dementia is in younger patients as well. But the term dementia isn’t applied to conditions that result from underlying issues. Today, the term dementia refers to degenerative conditions that affect the elderly.
Dementia is also known as neurocognitive disorders (NCDs). It causes a person to lose cognitive functions. These include thinking, memory, reasoning, and problem-solving.
NCDs can range in severity from mild to major. The severity of a patients dementia is determined by the degree to which their ability to function independently is impacted by their condition.
NCDs aren’t the only underlying cause of dementia-like symptoms. Some conditions that cause dementia are treatable. With treatment of the condition comes relief from dementia.
What Isn’t Dementia?
Some medical conditions can easily be mistaken for dementia. Treating these conditions will treat underlying dementia, in most cases.
Conditions that may cause dementia-like symptoms are:
- stress, anxiety, depression, or other emotional/mental strain
- blood clots
- infections in the brain
- vitamin deficiency
- side effects from medications
- excess alcohol consumption
- thyroid, liver, or kidney problems
- head injury (including concussion)
It’s difficult to accurately diagnose dementia because of these potential causes as well as the overlap in the symptoms of different types of dementia. A neurologist or a doctor who specializes in neurocognitive disorders can determine what’s causing dementia and if it’s treatable.
The Most Common Types of Dementia
Dementia is a progressive condition that results in an irreversible loss of neurons. As more neurons are lost, the brain’s ability to function continually decreases. Dementia of the neurodegenerative type is not curable.
The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s. But there are other brain disorders and diseases that cause dementia. These include frontotemporal disorders, mixed dementia, and Lewy body dementia.
Below, we explain the most common types of dementia in more detail.
Alzheimer’s begins with difficulty recalling events and details such as names. In the early stages of Alzheimer’s, a patient will find it increasingly difficult to carry on conversations. Gradually, the symptoms grow to include severe memory loss, anxiousness, paranoia, depression, confusion, and an inability to perform tasks independently.
Science isn’t exactly sure what causes Alzheimer’s disease. They believe that it’s related to a buildup of plaque in the brain. When this amyloid plaque begins to build in the tau tangles, it’s impossible to reverse.
Today, doctors treat Alzheimer’s patients with a variety of therapies and pharmaceuticals. Although they can’t cure the disease, they can increase and prolong functioning.
Vascular dementia is also called post-stroke dementia or multi-infarct dementia. It’s the result of bleeding in the brain that happens when a person suffers a stroke. The brain damage results in dementia that include symptoms such as impaired judgment, loss of motivation, memory loss, and an inability to plan.
Another incurable form of dementia, patients have access to pharmaceutical and therapeutic options that can improve their quality of life.
Lewy Body Dementia
This dementia may also be called diffuse Lewy body disease or cortical Lewy body disease. Many of the symptoms are the same as Alzheimer’s. In addition to memory loss, the following symptoms are unique to Lewy body dementia:
- sleep disturbances
- problems walking
- swings in the degree of alertness
This form of dementia is the result of proteins building up in nerve cells. That buildup inhibits the nerves from functioning the way they normally would. Similar to vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, treatments involve pharmaceuticals and therapies aims at prolonging quality of life and functioning.
A very rare form of dementia, frontotemporal dementia is caused by damage or shrinkage in the frontal or temporal regions of the brains. It’s marked by changes in behavior and emotions and, unlike most other forms of dementia, has no effect on memory.
Patients with frontotemporal dementia may exhibit a loss of empathy and motivation. Their inhibitions can decrease and cause them to act out inappropriately. They usually develop compulsive behaviors as well as mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.
Exactly what it sounds like, mixed dementia is dementia that has more than one cause. For example, a patient may have dementia resulting from both Alzheimer’s disease and a stroke (vascular dementia).
Who Is At Risk?
We don’t yet know how to treat or reverse dementias like Alzheimer’s disease, Lewy body dementia, and frontotemporal dementia. Scientists aren’t even sure what causes these conditions. But we do know that some lifestyle choices can help prevent these conditions.
Preventing Alzheimer’s and the like focuses on reducing the chance that you damage your nerves. As such, you should avoid smoking and excessive consumption of alcohol. If you’re diabetic, controlling your diabetes is of utmost importance.
If you experience infections, traumatic brain injury, or mental health issues such as depression, seek help immediately. This will also help prevent the development of neurocognitive disorders and dementia.
Concerned for Your Loved One?
There are many types of dementia and, while some are treatable, those of the neurodegenerative type are irreversible. These include Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, frontotemporal dementia, and Lewy body dementia.
Regardless of the type of dementia, getting a proper diagnosis is essential to prolonging quality of life and functioning. And when it’s time to look for care for your loved one, contact us to find out how we can help.