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The 4 Main Types of Dementia Explained

Types of Dementia

Individuals with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias might find it difficult to concentrate, understand basic concepts, communicate clearly, and take care of themselves. Certain forms of dementia can cause changes in a person's mood or behavior. Other types of dementia can cause loss of judgment and reasoning, loss of memory, and other challenging behavioral or emotional problems.

If you're caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia, understanding the different forms of dementia and their potential causes could be insightful. Learn about the four main types of dementia and their symptoms.

 

What Are the Types of Dementia?

According to the Alzheimer’s Association®, "Dementia is an overall term for diseases and conditions characterized by a decline in memory, language, problem-solving and other thinking skills that affect a person's ability to perform everyday activities." Although there are several types of dementia, each type may present itself with similar symptoms, making it difficult to fully assess which type of dementia a person has in the early stages. In certain instances, a person may even experience multiple forms of dementia concurrently, which is referred to as "mixed dementia."

To help break down the main types of dementia, their individual symptoms, and the most common causes, we’ve created this list. Here are the four main types of dementia and their symptoms:

1. Alzheimer’s Disease

The most common type of dementia, Alzheimer’s usually begins gradually and worsens over time. This disease can cause problems with memory, behavior, and thinking, and symptoms may eventually become severe enough to interfere with an individual's ability to manage daily tasks.

The Alzheimer's Association states that this disease accounts for 60 to 80 percent of all dementia cases. Common symptoms of Alzheimer’s include:

  • Confusion
  • Paranoia
  • Anxiety
  • Memory loss
  • Difficulty communicating
  • Disorientation
  • Mood and behavior changes
  • Difficulty speaking, swallowing and walking

What Causes Alzheimer’s?

Alzheimer's is a neurodegenerative disease that leads to progressive brain cell death. The causes of this disease aren't well understood in science today, but the most distinguishable characteristic of Alzheimer's is the buildup of tau tangles and amyloid plaques within the brain. Scientists believe this buildup disrupts processes that cells need to survive, thus causing brain cell death that results in memory failure and other symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

As of today, there is no known cure for this disease. However, treatments for symptoms may temporarily slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s and improve the quality of life and well-being of individuals with the disease.

 

2. Vascular Dementia

 

The second most common cause of dementia, vascular dementia leads to a decline in thinking skills due to inadequate blood flow in the brain. With this type of dementia, changes in thinking skills can suddenly develop after a stroke. Thinking difficulties may gradually worsen over time as the result of additional minor strokes.

 

The Alzheimer’s Association states that vascular dementia accounts for five to 10 percent of dementia cases, though many experts believe it is under-diagnosed. Some symptoms of vascular dementia include:

  • Memory loss
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Trouble speaking
  • Trouble understanding speech
  • Headaches
  • Difficulty walking
  • Trouble with balance
  • Numbness or paralysis on one side of the face or the body

If damage in the brain accumulates due to multiple small strokes or other conditions, a person living with vascular dementia may experience widespread small vessel disease symptoms as well. These symptoms include:

  • Impaired planning and judgment
  • Uncontrollable laughing
  • Uncontrollable crying
  • Declining ability to focus
  • Impaired function in social settings

What Causes Vascular Dementia?

After a stroke or series of strokes, conditions of bleeding within the brain can deprive oxygen and nutrients to different areas of the brain. A person may show different symptoms of this disease, all depending on the severity of damage and the location of the brain in which damage occurred. For example, if damage occurred in the part of the brain that stores and retrieves information, then memory loss may be a significant symptom.

While there's no known cure for vascular dementia, certain treatments may prevent further injury to the brain. A variety of medications, therapies, and strategies for controlling risk factors may be useful in managing the disease.

 

3. Lewy Body Dementia

The third most common cause of dementia, Lewy body dementia can lead to a progressive decline in reasoning and thinking skills. According to the Alzheimer's Association, Lewy body dementia is the third most common cause of dementia and accounts for five to 10 percent of dementia cases. This type can lead to a progressive decline in reasoning and thinking skills. The main component of this type of dementia, Alpha-synuclein protein, is found in different regions of the brain, although the functions of the protein aren't yet fully understood.

Symptoms of Lewy body dementia include:

  • Changes in thinking
  • Confusion
  • Delusions
  • Visual hallucinations
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Malfunctions of the autonomic nervous system
  • Memory loss

What Causes Lewy Body Dementia?

 

The cause of Lewy body dementia is abnormal microscopic deposits in the brain that lead to progressive brain cell damage over time. Since Lewy bodies are also found in other common brain diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, the overlap in symptoms suggests that these diseases may be caused by the same abnormalities in how the brain processes the alpha-synuclein protein.

 

4. Frontotemporal Dementia

 

Frontotemporal dementia is the fourth most common type of dementia. What sets this type of dementia apart from Alzheimer's, vascular and Lewy body dementias is that characteristics of this disease are marked by more emotional and behavioral changes than by cognitive impairment. In fact, a person's memory may be preserved in all stages of frontotemporal dementia.

 

This type of dementia leads to nerve cell damage that causes a loss of brain function. While symptoms progressively get worse over time, the rate of decline will differ from person to person.

 

The main symptoms of frontotemporal dementia include:

  • Loss of motivation
  • Loss of apathy
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Compulsive behaviors
  • Decreased empathy
  • Decreased inhibition that often leads to inappropriate behavior

What Causes Frontotemporal Dementia?

 

The primary cause of frontotemporal dementia is damage or shrinkage of the frontal or temporal lobes of the brain. When nerve cell damage occurs, it leads to a loss of brain function that can cause changes in behavior, personality, and language comprehension. There are no known risk factors of this disease other than family history or a similar disorder.

 

How We Can Help Those Living with Dementias

Caring for a loved one with dementia can be challenging. For more information about how we can help, contact us today.