Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe many different types of neurological conditions severe enough to interfere with normal daily life and executive functioning.
It can be difficult to understand their differences and how they may affect someone’s life.
In this article, we will explore different types of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Vascular dementia, Dementia with Lewy bodies, and Parkinson’s Disease – all of which have their own unique characteristics and challenges.
I hope to provide you with an informative overview of these various forms so that you are better equipped to understand the complexities involved in each type of dementia.
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Alzheimer’s Disease (AD)
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, degenerative disorder that affects the brain and results in impaired memory, thinking, and behavior. This disease is the most common type of dementia.
Signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s can range from person to person. People with dementia may experience the following:
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks
- Problems with language, such as forgetting words or having trouble understanding conversations
- Disorientation to time and place, like getting lost in familiar places or not knowing what day it is
- Poor or decreased judgment, for example, dressing inappropriately for the weather or making unwise financial decisions
- Changes in mood or behavior, including becoming anxious or aggressive without apparent cause
- Difficulties with coordination and motor functions like walking
The cause of Alzheimer’s disease is still under investigation.
However, potential causes of dementia from Alzheimer’s may include the following:
- Age-related modifications to the brain leading to an abnormal accumulation of clumps of proteins known as amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles
- Family history of dementia
- Lifestyle choices include smoking cigarettes or a lack of physical activity
- Previous head trauma
- Stroke history
- Other medical conditions like diabetes mellitus type 2
Treatment options for Alzheimer’s disease involve medications that help slow down the progression of symptoms by targeting some of these underlying causes.
These drugs are often used alongside lifestyle modifications such as dieting to reduce inflammation associated with this condition, as well as regular physical activity, which helps improve cognitive function.
I go into very great detail about the different classes of medications indicated to treat dementia in my exclusive article here.
Additionally, there are many support groups available both online and offline that provide resources for caregivers who need assistance caring for someone living with Alzheimer’s Disease.
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Vascular Dementia (VaD)
Vascular dementia is a form of cognitive decline that results from reduced blood flow to the brain due to stroke or other vascular diseases.
Common symptoms of vascular dementia can vary depending on which area of the brain has been affected by reduced blood flow.
Those affected may experience the following:
- Difficulty with problem-solving (cannot concentrate on tasks)
- Trouble making decisions (slowed thinking)
- Memory loss
- Language comprehension issues (Speech difficulty, slowed, garbled speech)
- Changes in personality
- Apathy (not motivated to do anything)
- Agitation (restlessness)
- Delusions (false beliefs despite evidence to the contrary)
- Hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that are not there)
- Physical difficulties carrying out daily activities like walking.
The most common cause for vascular dementia is stroke history, where a person has had multiple strokes over time, resulting in decreased oxygen supply to certain areas of the brain, leading to damage causing cognitive decline.
Other causes include the following:
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Diabetes mellitus (DM)
- High cholesterol levels (hyperlipidemia)
- Heart disease (coronary artery disease)
- Alcohol consumption
- Physical inactivity
All these conditions increase an individual’s risk of developing vascular dementia if left untreated.
Treatment options for vascular dementia depend on its severity but generally involve prescription medications.
Medications used for treating this condition work towards improving cognitive function while also managing any behavioral issues related to it.
Lifestyle modifications such as diet and exercise also help improve overall health, thereby reducing risk factors associated with this condition.
Lifestyle modifications involve eating healthy foods rich in antioxidants, exercising regularly, quitting smoking, limiting alcohol intake, maintaining a healthy weight through regular exercise, and controlling high blood pressure through proper medication management, etc.
All these measures can help reduce an individual’s risk of developing further complications due to this condition, thus helping them lead a healthier life despite the diagnosis of dementia.
Dementia with Lewy Bodies (DLB)
Common causes of DLB are unknown, but risk factors may include age-related changes in the brain structure & function along with genetic predisposition & environmental exposures like pesticides & herbicides, etc.
People with Lewy Body Dementia experience the following:
- Difficulty concentrating or focusing on tasks
- Visual hallucinations
- Sleep disturbances
- Movement problems like tremors and stiffness in the arms, legs, face, and neck area (Parkinsonism)
- Falls due to balance issues (can lead to death – very dangerous!)
- Urinary incontinence (inability to control urination)
- Changes in appetite resulting in weight loss or gain
It is important that you follow your doctor’s instructions closely when taking any medication prescribed for you so you do not experience any adverse effects from it.
Additionally, eating healthy foods rich in antioxidants, such as fruits and vegetables, helps protect against oxidative damage linked to aging processes which could contribute towards the development of dementia conditions, including DLB.
Regular exercise has also been shown to be helpful since it keeps our brains active, reducing risks associated with developing degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, including DLB.
Parkinson’s Disease Dementia (PDD)
Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurological disorder that affects movement control, caused by damage to certain areas of the brain which produce dopamine – an essential neurotransmitter for controlling muscle movements throughout the body.
The most common motor (movement) symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease are the following:
- Tremors or shaking in hands or other parts of the body
- Slow movements, such as difficulty initiating activities like walking or writing (bradykinesia)
- Rigid muscles that can cause postural instability
- Difficulty with balance when standing or walking
- Loss of facial expression resulting in a mask-like appearance due to lack of mobility in facial muscles
- Monotone speech, mumbling, soft voice
- Changes in handwriting size and quality (micrographia)
- Shuffling gait while walking
- Freezing episodes where one becomes temporarily unable to move.
Non-motor symptoms may also be present and can include:
- Sleep disturbances
- Cognitive decline
The exact cause behind Parkinson’s disease is still unknown.
However, there are some risk factors that have been identified, such as age-related changes in dopamine production, genetics, and environmental exposures such as pesticides & herbicides.
In some cases, it has been linked to head trauma.
Treatment Options for Parkinson’s Disease Dementia (PDD)
Treatment options for Parkinson’s Disease Dementia (PDD) vary depending on the individual and include medications, therapies, lifestyle changes, and support.
Medications are typically used to control tremors and other motor symptoms associated with PDD.
Therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, physical therapy, and speech therapy can help improve thinking, behavior, mobility, communication, and quality of life for people living with PDD.
Lifestyle changes such as a healthy diet, regular exercise, adequate rest, and stress management techniques may also be beneficial.
Additionally, social support services such as counseling or support groups can provide emotional comfort and help people cope with their condition.
Ultimately, treatment choices should be discussed with a trusted healthcare provider to determine the best course of action for each individual affected by PDD.
Mixed dementia occurs when a person has more than one type of dementia, which can lead to a greater impact on the brain than experiencing one disease alone.
A person with mixed dementia will show signs of at least two separate dementias, the most typical combination being Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia.
Drawing from my own clinical experience working with patients, I can confidently state that the number of reported cases of mixed dementia is grossly underestimated.
In fact, autopsy investigations indicate that the prevalence of mixed dementia may be substantially more widespread than previously thought.
I personally think there are many, many people living with undiagnosed mixed dementia.
I believe this is due to the difficulty of diagnosing mixed dementia, and clinicians are not trained to identify the nuances involved in identifying key differences between Alzheimer’s and Vascular Dementia.
Concern should be raised when a person exhibits signs of both cardiovascular illness and cognitive symptoms that gradually develop over time.
If you have concerns you or your loved one has mixed dementia, I recommend making a list of the symptoms you have observed and discussing them with your doctor or a skilled neuropsychologist to determine the next steps for an appropriate cognitive assessment.
Depending on the symptoms observed, treatment for mixed dementia focuses on leading a brain-healthy lifestyle and may include drugs approved to treat Alzheimer’s disease or alternative treatments.
With my patients, the most important advice I give them is to quickly get their uncontrolled vascular-related health problems under control.
This will greatly minimize and reign in the modifiable cardiovascular risk factors contributing to a decline in cognitive function.
So, what exactly does this mean?
If you have diabetes or high blood pressure, you should adhere to your doctor’s advice on eating healthy and focusing on whole, unprocessed foods. This doctor-formulated prepared meal service is simply incredible. You get 25% off and free shipping with your first order!
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A healthy gut microbiome is also VERY important for maintaining your health in so many levels. I highly recommend Supergut products, especially for diabetics!
Use good, non-inflammatory oils such as olive and avocado oil to cook your food, and avoid oils with omega-6 fatty acids, which are highly inflammatory, such as canola or corn oil.
Exercising regularly and getting 7-9 hours of sleep each night is integral to good health too.
An incredibly vital factor in maintaining good health is social engagement! I highly encourage you to spend time with family and friends as much as possible.
If you are religious, go to church, mosque, temple, synagogue, or whatever place you choose to worship.
And please take your medications as prescribed by your doctor, and don’t miss doses! Use a pillbox or automated pill dispenser to keep your medications organized.
Reversible Dementia is a form of dementia that can be reversed or improved with the right treatment.
It is caused by medical conditions such as vitamin B-1 and B-12 deficiencies, thyroid problems, drug interactions, infections, and head trauma.
Symptoms may include memory loss, confusion, difficulty concentrating and speaking, depression, restlessness or agitation, and personality changes.
Treatment typically involves addressing the underlying cause of the condition and may involve medications to improve cognitive functioning.
Other therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, can also be beneficial in helping to manage symptoms.
Reversible Dementia should not be taken lightly as it can impact daily living and quality of life for those affected.
Early diagnosis and treatment are key to improving outcomes for those with this condition.
FAQs in Relation to Different Types of Dementia
1. Alzheimer’s Disease:
This is the most common type of dementia, accounting for 60-80% of all cases. It is a progressive disorder that causes memory loss, confusion, and difficulty with everyday tasks.
2. Vascular Dementia:
This form of dementia occurs when there are problems with the blood supply to the brain due to stroke or other conditions such as uncontrolled high blood pressure or diabetes.
It can cause cognitive decline, including problems with memory loss and decision-making abilities, physical symptoms like weakness on one side of the body, or vision issues.
3. Lewy Body Dementia:
This type of dementia is caused by abnormal deposits called Lewy bodies that develop in nerve cells in parts of the brain responsible for movement control and cognition processes like learning and remembering information. Dementia symptoms include hallucinations, sleep disturbances, tremors, muscle rigidity, slowed movements (Parkinsonism), depression, anxiety, falls and balance issues, and more severe cognitive impairment than Alzheimer’s disease typically has at similar stages.
4. Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD):
Also known as Pick’s disease, this form of dementia is caused by damage to nerve cells in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain resulting in abrupt changes to language abilities and behavior patterns, including impulsivity or apathy.
Often, caregivers are alarmed by the drastic change in their loved ones’ personalities. The video below shows the devastating effects of this disease.
5. Mixed Dementia:
A combination of two or more types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, or frontotemporal dementia
6. Huntington’s Disease Dementia:
A genetic disorder causing nerve cell death which leads to movement problems as well as cognitive impairment over time
7. Parkinson’s Disease Dementia:
Cognitive decline caused by degeneration of neurons associated with Parkinson’s disease
8. Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus (NPH):
An accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid inside cavities deep within the brain, leading to impaired mobility, urinary incontinence, and cognition difficulties
9. Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD):
A rare neurological condition caused by proteins called prions that lead to rapid deterioration of mental abilities
10 Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS):
Usually caused by chronic alcohol abuse leading to thiamine deficiency resulting in memory loss, confusion, and disorientation
What is the most severe form of dementia?
The most severe form of dementia is known as end-stage dementia.
It is the final stage of a progressive decline in cognitive functioning, where an individual’s memory and other mental abilities have declined to such an extent that they can no longer perform daily activities or communicate effectively.
End-stage dementia is characterized by severe confusion, disorientation, agitation, impaired communication skills, and difficulty recognizing familiar people or places.
In this stage of dementia, there may also be a loss of bladder and bowel control and physical immobility.
Dementia is a complex condition that can affect people in different ways.
It is important to understand the different types of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Vascular dementia, Dementia with Lewy bodies, and Parkinson’s disease, so you can get the right diagnosis and treatment.
While there is no cure for any dementia yet, identification of early signs and subsequent prompt diagnosis and management may help slow down its progression.
Knowing about the various types of dementia will help you make informed decisions regarding your healthcare needs.