Our Guide to the Common Forms of Dementia can help you learn more about dementia and assist you in having a more in-depth conversation with your loved one’s physicians and health care providers.
Dementia is often mistaken for a disease, but it’s a descriptive term for a variety of symptoms that impact a person’s cognitive and social abilities. Dementia may be caused by a variety of diseases or even circumstances, some of which can be reversed.
There are many types of dementia, several of which share common symptoms. This diversity of types can make it challenging to determine which type of dementia is affecting your loved one.
Four Common Forms of Dementia
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, infecting 5.8 million Americans, but this is not the only disease that may cause dementia.
The following are the four most common types of dementia:
- Alzheimer’s Disease – Alzheimer’s is characterized by the presence of plaques and tangles in the patient’s brain. Plaques are clumps of beta-amyloid protein, and tangles are fibrous tau protein. It is believed that these clumps and tangles damage healthy neurons and the fibers that connect them.
- Vascular or Multi-Infarct Dementia – The second most common form of dementia is caused by blood vessel damage that restricts blood flow to the brain. Some common symptoms include slowed thinking and difficulty with problem-solving.
- Dementia with Lewy Bodies (DLB) – Lewy bodies are balloon-like clumps of protein that form on the patient’s brain. These clumps can also be found in the brains of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Common symptoms include acting out one’s dreams, visual hallucinations, and problems with focus and attention.
- Frontotemporal Dementia – This is a category of disease that is characterized by the breakdown of nerve cells and their connectivity to the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. This can lead to changes in behavior, personality, thinking, judgment, and language.
How Many Types of Dementia Exist?
There are hundreds of different types of dementia and dementia-like conditions. Dementia is a broad description of diseases and symptoms that cause damage or loss of nerve cells and their connectivity to the brain.
As a result of this broad definition, dementia can also include some more rare forms of dementia, disorders that are often linked with dementia, and even be confused with dementia-like symptoms that are associated with other conditions.
Rare Forms of Dementia
Here are some less common forms of dementia and even some conditions that might display dementia-like symptoms.
Disorders Linked to Dementia
- Huntington’s Disease – This disease is caused by a genetic mutation that causes nerve cells in your brain and spinal cord to deteriorate.
- Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) – This type of dementia is caused by physical trauma to the brain that may cause nerve cells to breakdown years after the actual trauma.
- Creutzfeldt-Jokab Disease – This is a rare form of dementia that is caused by deposits of infectious proteins called prions.
- Parkinson’s Disease – This disease often leads to dementia as it progresses.
Conditions that Cause Dementia-like Symptoms
The following are conditions that often show dementia-like symptoms but can sometimes be reversed with proper diagnoses and treatment.
- Infections and immune disorders
- Metabolic problems and endocrine abnormalities
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Medication side effects
- Subdural hematomas
- Brain tumors
- Normal-pressure hydrocephalus
What Triggers Dementia?
As previously mentioned, dementia is more accurately characterized as a syndrome, not a disease. Therefore, the causes of dementia can result from a variety of triggering circumstances, including major neurocognitive disorders to traumatic brain injury to infections or disease and even genetic factors.
Some of the most commonly cited risk factors include:
- Family history
- Down syndrome
- Diet and exercise
- Heavy alcohol consumption
- Cardiovascular risk
- Sleep apnea
- Vitamin and nutritional deficiencies
What Causes Dementia to Progress or Suddenly Get Worse?
Generally, dementia and Alzheimer’s are slow progressing diseases. However, a variety of circumstances can cause memory loss to seemingly accelerate.
The sudden progression in memory impairment can be as simple as not noticing early-stage symptoms. These are often subtle and somewhat masked by your loved one’s own coping behaviors.
Outside of undiagnosed awareness of dementia, there are several factors that can cause dementia to progress at different rates – genetics, environment, age, and other medical conditions and influences.
Some of the most common factors that can cause dementia to become progressively worse include:
- Side effects to medications
- Social and environmental changes and stress
- Thyroid problems
- Additional or complicating neurological conditions
- Nutritional or vitamin deficiencies
What is the Best Treatment for Dementia?
Although there are no medical cures for dementia, there are several medications and treatments that can assist in managing dementia-related symptoms.
Some common medications associated with the treatment of dementia include:
- Cholinesterase inhibitors can slow the breakdown of a brain chemical associated with memory and judgment.
- Memantine can help control a brain chemical that is needed for learning and memory.
- Antidepressants can help improve mood and irritability.
- Anxiolytics can help with anxiety and restlessness.
- Antipsychotic medicines can assist with controlling behaviors, such as aggression, agitation, delusions, and hallucinations.
Therapy can also help to ease the symptoms and behaviors that cause frustration and anxiety with a loved one suffering from dementia. Here are some of the most popular ones and ones that are commonly used in The Kensington memory care program.
- Reminiscence therapy – This is a very popular therapy that just encourages you and your loved one to routinely revisit places, photos, music, movies, and other memories from the past.
- Cognitive stimulation therapy – This is a great opportunity for social therapy that involves a group engaging in cognitive activities, like discussing current events, singing, art, or playing games.
- Reality orientation therapy – This is an approach where various signs and photos are arranged around your loved ones’ living space that reminds them of people, names, the current date and time, and where important items are stored. This allows them to rely on visual cues and reminders, not their memory.
Living a healthy and active lifestyle is a positive step towards preventing, treating, and curing a broad range of maladies. However, as it pertains specifically to dementia, staying active, ensuring quality sleep, and eating healthy foods improves your brain, cardiovascular, and mental health.
At The Kensington, we place an emphasis on providing a full schedule of activities to keep residents socially engaged and moving – creating mental and physical stimulation.
Then there is the food! The Kensington has a world-class dining experience that includes many options that are brain and heart-healthy.
Caring for a Loved One with Dementia
Dementia can be a confusing and overwhelming diagnosis. Understanding the underlying causes and types of dementia is the first step. Then bringing together the right kind of support and treatment is essential.
At The Kensington, we love and care for your loved one as we do our own.
That’s why you’ll see all of these innovative dementia treatments and therapies actively practiced every day at The Kensington. In fact, we encourage you to schedule a tour and see our exceptional memory care in action.
- From Common to Rare Types of Dementia & Accurately Making Diagnoses, Dementia Care Central
- What is Dementia? Symptoms, Types, and Diagnosis, National Institute on Aging
- Dementia: Symptoms and Causes, Mayo Clinic