The term ‘dementia’ is an umbrella term used to describe the symptoms of cognitive impairment. And within the dementia umbrella, there are many different variations – Alzheimer’s included. Most of us average folk don’t realize that all dementia is not Alzheimer’s. In fact, I would venture to say that the regular layman isn’t quite sure what the difference between Alzheimer’s and Dementia is. Don’t fret – I’ll explain it here!
Learning the difference between the varying levels of memory loss can be crucial to know the do’s and don’ts of dealing with behavior challenges. It will also come into play with understanding the levels of care that are available to fit your loved one’s needs, so they can live more comfortably.
In this blog we will discuss the Top 4 most common types of Dementia. The good news for you is that at The Kensington, we are very experienced with these areas of Memory Care and more. We welcome everyone!
- Alzheimer’s Disease. This is the most common type of dementia. I like to describe Alzheimer’s as a slow process of going backwards in time. While it begins with short term memory loss (and thus, repeating oneself- because the person doesn’t remember what has just happened or what they’ve just said), the person essentially goes back to earlier days, because the days of the present are no longer remembered. Long term memory remains strong while short term memory evaporates. This explains why someone ‘doesn’t recognize’ their spouse, for example. If the resident feels and believes that they are now 50 years old instead of 90, and a gray haired gentleman tells her that he is her husband, she may reject the idea vehemently. People with Alzheimer’s demonstrate trouble with thinking and reasoning, and may have little or no orientation to time. They live in the present- emotionally- and may do things that make no sense at all. The process of Alzheimer’s has been divided into 7 stages which begin with simple confusion and in later stages the person has lost significant abilities (to swallow, for example) and full time care is needed.
- Lewy Body Dementia (or Dementia with Lewy Bodies). Lewy Body Dementia is another very common, yet frequently misdiagnosed, or undiagnosed type of dementia. A simplified explanation for what LBD looks like is that it is described as a combination of Parkinson’s symptoms with Alzheimer’s symptoms. The stiffness or rigidity typically associated with Parkinson’s combines with the cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer’s. In addition to these outward traits, one of the primary identifying factors of LBD is visual hallucinations. The hallucinations typically are of smaller people (children) or animals, and are not upsetting to the person with LBD. Problems with sleep patterns – waking throughout the night or the acting out of dreams are other identifying factors. People with Lewy Body also experience fluctuating cognition- meaning that they can have moments or periods of clarity, and make complete sense- followed by other times of confusion and nonsensical thinking. Lewy Body Dementia causes its victims to be extremely sensitive to anti-psychotic medications which can typically help those with either Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. These medications can create potentially fatal conditions for those with LBD.
- Vascular Dementia. This type of dementia- which is sometimes called “Post Stroke Dementia” is quite different from Alzheimer’s or Lewy Body Dementia. Vascular Dementia is actually brain damage traced to cardiovascular problems, or mini-strokes that caused bleeding or harm in the brain. The most outstanding symptoms that identify Vascular Dementia are when drastic changes occur immediately following a stroke. Changes can be in personality, thinking or reasoning- all depending on the area of the brain that has been affected. Trouble with paying attention, organizing thoughts, or analyzing situations can all be symptoms of Vascular Dementia. So simply put, Vascular Dementia presents itself mostly through cognitive changes, which are the result of brain damage. The use of medications has been shown to prevent or slow further brain damage, therefore control the progress of Vascular Dementia.
- Fronto Temporal Dementia. FTD occurs when there is deterioration to the Frontal and Temporal Lobes of the brain. The person experiences problems with language, and significant changes in their personality and behavior. Where the Temporal lobe affects how one behaves or reacts in the world, based on outward input- the Frontal lobe has to do with cognitive and emotional processes, and voluntary movement. The executive functions of the brain including planning, judging, or analyzing are all housed in the Frontal lobe. When someone has FTD, they slowly withdraw into themselves. Initially they may lose inhibitions, and behavior and actions can be shocking. As the disease progresses, they tend to lose interest in others around them, and their surroundings. Their emotions become empty- there is a lack of sadness, or depression, and little to no awareness of the needs of others. Verbal and communication skills are predominantly weak and decrease significantly over time.
Yes, there are many, many more types of dementia that are known. There is dementia resulting from years of alcohol misuse. There is dementia associated with Parkinson’s Disease. There is dementia that is a result of a traumatic brain injury. All in all, there are over 100 types of dementia being treated and researched today. An accurate diagnosis is critical to the treatment of someone with dementia, for obvious reasons.
While cures for dementia continue to elude the medical world, that doesn’t prohibit us from learning about different dementias, and adapting our ways of thinking at The Kensington to love and care for those we know with dementia.
Which types of dementia are hereditary?
It’s true that genes might have a role in dementia, but the patterns of inheritance vary. Environmental and lifestyle factors also greatly affect our chances of developing a particular disease we may have inherited, so an active, healthy lifestyle is important to avoid many types of illness.
With that being said, current research shows that people who have a parent or sibling with Alzheimer’s are more likely to develop the disease than those who do not. There also is a difference between early-onset and late-onset, with the latter putting individuals at higher risk. Again, this research is still being developed and depends a lot on the health of the individual.
On the other hand, vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies, and fronto-temporal dementia have not yet been linked to genetics in most cases. The genetic factors instead are linked more to the underlying causes of these dementias or the possibility of gene links to other aspects of these conditions. So out of the four common types of dementia, Alzheimer’s is the type with the most likely genetic link based on current research.
What are the early warning signs of dementia to watch for?
Now that you know the four common types of dementia, there are 10 early symptoms you should watch for if you begin to notice changes in your loved one. Noticing memory problems in your loved one doesn’t immediately mean it’s dementia.
There needs to be at least two types of impairment that are significantly impacting the person: memory loss plus difficulty with communication, language, focus, or reasoning.
Here are 10 early symptoms of dementia to watch for:
- Short-term memory changes such as forgetting where they placed something, what they ate for lunch, or what they were supposed to do that day
- Trouble finding the right words to express their thoughts
- Mood changes, personality shifts, and depression
- Apathy, or losing interest in hobbies or social activities
- Trouble completing their usual daily tasks or learning new things
- Confusion as they begin to forget familiar faces or appropriate social interactions
- Difficulty following along in conversations or TV programs
- Losing their sense of direction
- Repeating tasks, phrases, or questions because they forgot it already was addressed
- Fear and trouble adapting to new experiences
If your loved one is beginning to experience these symptoms, talk to their doctor to rule out any other factors and get a proper diagnosis. An early diagnosis and treatment can be beneficial, so don’t delay in getting help.
What are the stages of dementia?
The stages of dementia vary from person to person and the type of dementia. Keeping the four common types of dementia in mind, these seven stages are the usual progression that is experienced:
- No symptoms yet, but tests might reveal a problem
- Very mild changes in behavior, but independence remains
- Mild decline is noticeable, including changes in thinking, forgetting events, and repeating statements
- Moderate decline, meaning trouble remembering recent events and handling money
- A moderate to severe decline where they forget names, are unsure what time of day it is, and need some assistance with basic daily tasks
- Their decline is severe — they are forgetting their spouse’s name, their personality is changing, and they need help eating and going to the bathroom
- Very severe decline, where they are unable to walk, can no longer speak their thoughts, and spend most time in bed
Exceptional Dementia Care
Memory loss is life-changing for all involved. At The Kensington, we provide a state-of-the-art memory care program, a higher staff-to-resident ratio than industry standards, and more advanced care services. Our promise is to love and care for your family as we do our own.
For additional resources regarding your loved one’s condition, please read on about our Dementia Care locations:
The Kensington White Plains, experts in dementia care
The health professionals at The Kensington are devoted to providing the highest quality memory care to your loved one. Our promise is simple: We will love and care for your family as we do our own, and we live that promise in every aspect.
The decision to move a loved one to an assisted living community for memory care is not one that should be taken lightly. Our team has a deep understanding of Alzheimer’s and dementia, and our goal is to always capitalize on the strengths of our residents no matter where they are at in their journey.
With two thoughtfully designed memory care neighborhoods — Connections and Haven — and around-the-clock care and support, you can have peace of mind knowing your loved one is always in the hands of professionals. The Connections neighborhood was created for early to middle stage Alzheimer’s and dementia care, and Haven is for middle to late stage. Each floor provides the required level of assistance and security, in a cozy living space, to ensure the best care.
Please call us today to speak to our team and learn more about our programs, staff, residents, and dedication to giving your loved one top-level care and fulfillment.