Did you know there is more than one type of dementia? Technically, dementia isn’t a specific disease at all. It’s a general term for a group of symptoms including memory loss, thinking problems, and social struggles that can range from mild to severe. Dementia has to be diagnosed by a doctor. Usually, they will do a series of tests to evaluate memory and cognitive abilities. They might also do a CT, PET scan, or MRI, which are types of pictures of the brain and its activity. The doctor will also use these tests to determine which type of dementia the person has, or what is causing the dementia.
There are 5 main causes or types of dementia, all of which include damage to the brain’s nerve cells. The 5 types of dementia are Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, frontotemporal dementia, and mixed dementia. Read on for more information about each type.
Alzheimer’s is the most common and prevalent cause of dementia. More than 10% of all people over the age of 65 have Alzheimer’s disease, and this seems to be increasing. Many people even use the word “Alzheimer’s” as a synonym for “dementia,” but it isn’t dementia’s only cause. Alzheimer’s type of dementia involves plaques, or clumps of protein, in the brain, that disrupt the signals the brain’s cells are sending and receiving. There may also be tangles of protein that cause the same disruption of messages. Some cases of Alzheimer’s are genetic. Brain imaging tests are usually required to diagnose Alzheimer’s type of dementia. About 60-80% of all cases of dementia are caused by Alzheimer’s.
Vascular dementia is caused by damage to the blood vessels that supply oxygen to your brain. Without oxygen, the fibers in the brain become damaged or die. A stroke is one example of this type of damage. If a stroke blocks an artery in your brain, it can cause vascular dementia. Some strokes, often called “silent strokes”, are so small that worsening dementia might be the only symptom. A heart condition called small vessel disease can also cause vascular dementia. Vascular dementia represents around 10-20% of cases of dementia. Memory loss isn’t usually the first sign of vascular dementia. Symptoms often include issues with problem-solving, slower thinking, and trouble with organization and focus.
Lewy Body Dementia
Lewy body dementia, or LBD, is characterized by clumps of protein in the brain. These clumps look like balloons and are called “Lewy bodies”. This type of dementia is progressive, meaning it will get worse over time as these clumps continue to build up. This usually occurs over a period of 5-8 years, but it can progress for as long as 20 years. LBD is the third most common cause of dementia and accounts for around 5-10% of cases. While this might not sound like a lot, more than 1 million people in the USA currently have Lewy body dementia.
Hallucinations are very common with LBD, unlike with other types of dementia. Unclear and disorganized thinking and fast-changing moods are also common symptoms, which usually appear before memory loss.
Frontotemporal dementia, or FTD, is a term for a group of diseases that causes the brain cells in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain to die. These parts of the brain then shrink in size. FTD usually happens in people between the ages of 40 and 65. FTD is rare and accounts for less than 3% of all dementia cases. Symptoms of FTD include sudden changes in behavior and personality (frontal lobe), and/or loss of ability to speak or understand speech (temporal lobes).
The frontal lobe of the brain controls our executive functions, like planning ahead, self-control, and good judgment. So when brain cells are lost in this part of the brain, the resulting personality changes can be alarming. Symptoms tend to involve things like swearing, stealing, inappropriate behaviors, lack of empathy, decreased self-awareness, and emotional withdrawal. FTD is not itself life-threatening, but the symptoms can cause serious behavioral consequences and be very upsetting for loved ones. People with FTD are usually best cared for in an assisted living or nursing home.
Mixed dementia means there are a combination of multiple causes of dementia in a single person. For example, a person can have Alzheimer’s and also Lewy body dementia. It is even possible to have dementia caused by Alzheimer’s, Lewy bodies, and vascular dementia. Multiple causes makes dementia symptoms harder to treat. Around 10-20% of cases of dementia are considered “mixed dementia”.
These are the 5 main types or causes of dementia. Regardless of the cause, dementia is a tough diagnosis. Caring for someone with dementia can be a full-time job. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with dementia, assisted living might be a good choice. Check out Stellar Living for a wide variety of assisted living communities near you.