Types of Dementia

Dementia is the generalized term used to refer to a condition of memory loss and loss of certain mental capacities significant enough to impact a person’s daily functioning.

Dementia can result from the brain undergoing physical changes. The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s Disease. In Alzheimer’s disease, a person’s mental capacity and independent functioning declines rapidly. There is no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease, and the progression can only be slowed and the symptoms delayed. Beyond Alzheimer’s disease, there are at least 10 other types of dementia.

Identifying which type of dementia you or a loved one is experiencing can go a long way toward helping to treat or cure it. Otherwise, knowing the type and how to treat it can slow and delay its effects. Once you believe you have identified the type or types of dementia you or a loved one may be experiencing, the only way to know for sure is to see a qualified physician for an examination and evaluation.

Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD)

Though a rare disease in general, occurring in only one in a million people worldwide each year, CJD is the most prevalent type of prion disease, a collection of rare brain disorders in fetuses. Dementia from CJD progresses more quickly than other common forms of dementia. Different types of CJD include sporadic, familial and acquired. Symptoms of CJD dementia include the following:

  • A quick drop in reasoning and thinking abilities
  • Confusion and changes in mood.
  • Involuntary muscular movements and trouble walking

Dementia with Lewy Bodies (DLB)

A progressive type of dementia, DLB can occur when brain cells are damaged over time by atypical microscopic deposits. It is believed to be the third most prevalent type of dementia, responsible for 10 to 25 percent of dementia cases. Symptoms of DLB include the following:

  • Decline in reasoning and thinking abilities
  • Loss of independent functioning ability
  • Rapid and unpredictable swings between alertness and confusion
  • REM (rapid eye movement) sleep disorder, or dreams of acting out, including violently.
  • Delusions
  • Visual hallucinations and difficulty comprehending visual information
  • Significant memory loss, though not as severe as in Alzheimer’s cases
  • Hunched posture, rigid muscles, balance problems and other symptoms mimicking Parkinson’s Disease
  • Autonomic nervous system malfunctions

Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD)

Referring actually to a collection of disorders, FTD involves a progressive loss of nerve cells in either the frontal or temporal lobes of the brain. The different types of FTD include the following:

  • Semantic primary progressive aphasia (PPA)
  • Nonfluent/agrammatic primary progressive aphasia (PPA)
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
  • Corticobasal syndrome
  • Progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP)

Huntington’s Disease (HD)

A progressive brain disorder, HD is the result of a disease caused by a defective gene that prompts changes to the brain’s central region affecting thinking, mood and movement. A dominant genetic illness, anyone who inherits the defective gene from a parent will someday develop HD. Symptoms of HD typically develop between 30 and 50 years of age and may include the following:

  • Uncontrollable arm, leg, face, head or upper body movements.
  • Drop in reasoning and thinking abilities.
  • Decline in judgment, concentration, memory, organization and planning abilities.
  • Mood changes, including anxiety, depression, irritability and anger.
  • Obsessive-compulsive type symptoms, such as repeating the same activity or question multiple times.

Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus (NPH)

An abnormal buildup of cerebrospinal fluid in the ventricle of the brain, NPH typically impacts people 60 to 80 years of age. The condition is difficult to diagnose because it does not show in spinal taps and the symptoms are so common among other dementias and brain disorders. Symptoms of NPH include the following:

  • A slowing down in thinking processes, impaired decision-making and planning abilities, reduced ability to concentrate, apathy and behavioral and personality changes.
  • Trouble walking, usually with a forward bend to the body, legs wide apart and feet either sliding or waddling.
  • Bladder control loss, typically occurring in the later stages of the illness.

Posterior Cortical Atrophy (PCA)

A progressive degeneration occurring gradually in the brain’s outer cortex near the back part of the head, PCA may be a variant of Alzheimer’s disease, though scientists are still unsure. While Alzheimer’s typically afflicts people from 65 years of age, PCA starts to appear in people between 50 and 65 years of age. Because it is so hard to diagnose, PCA is believed to be present in five to 15 percent of Alzheimer’s cases. Symptoms also vary widely but generally involve impairments in visual information processing abilities, such as the following:

  • Trouble reading text.
  • Trouble gauging distances.
  • Trouble distinguishing between stationary and moving objects.
  • Difficulty perceiving multiple objects simultaneously.
  • Disorientation.
  • Challenges recognizing and utilizing common tools and objects.

Parkinson’s Disease Dementia

When a person has Parkinson’s Disease, he or she could develop a unique form of dementia impairing his or her reasoning and thinking abilities. Parkinson’s dementia progresses along with the disease, exacerbating as the illness spreads. Other symptoms of this type of dementia include:

  • Memory, judgment and concentration changes.
  • Visual hallucinations and difficulty interpreting visual data.
  • Muffled speech.
  • Paranoid thinking and other delusions.
  • Anxiety, depression and irritability.
  • Restless sleeping and daytime drowsiness.

Vascular Dementia

When a medical condition reduces or blocks blood flow to the brain, it deprives the brain of vital nutrients and oxygen. This can lead to a cognitive decline known as vascular dementia. Vascular dementia is the second most prevalent dementia after Alzheimer’s disease. Other symptoms of vascular dementia include:

  • Disorientation.
  • Confusion.
  • Difficulty comprehending speech or speaking.
  • Loss of vision.

Korsakoff Syndrome

A chronic memory disorder, Korsakoff syndrome is the result of a severe thiamine deficiency. Typically, this deficiency is produced by misuse of alcohol, although it can be caused by other conditions as well, including chronic infections, AIDS and malnutrition. Symptoms of Korsakoff syndrome include the following:

  • Memory loss, including difficulty recalling recent events and gaps in long-term memory
  • Trouble learning new things
  • Coherent conversations followed by an inability to recall anything about the conversation, including with whom or that it had even taken place

Mixed Dementia

A diagnosis of mixed dementia is given when a patient simultaneously exhibits qualities of more than one form of dementia. Among the most common combinations of dementias are Alzheimer’s Disease dementia with Lewy bodies and vascular dementia. Mixed dementia symptoms can vary widely, though the sheer fact of the variation can be a sign that more than one type of dementia is present.

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