5 main types of dementia: what are they?
As we age, it is normal to be concerned about some health conditions. Dementia is certainly on that list. Thankfully, solutions exist to help people living with any form of dementia maintain maximum well-being and quality of life daily. By a better understanding of these different cognitive disorders, we believe it will help support elderly relatives living with a form of dementia. Here is a summary of the 5 main types of dementia, as well as their different characteristics.
What exactly is dementia?
First, it is important to realize that dementia problems are different from the normal aging process. While it is true that minor memory loss may become more frequent as we become older, suffering from dementia does involve more than that. Dementia may be defined as a chronic condition affecting brain functions resulting in a reduction in the person’s ability to care for him or herself independently.
Another interesting point to note is that dementia is not a specific disease. It is actually considered as a syndrome which can be caused by many different cognitive disorders, all with their own characteristics. Five main types of dementia stand out in terms of their prevalence in the population and their impact on daily life.
1. Alzheimer’s disease: the most common type of dementia
Among all types of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease is certainly the best known. It is also the most common, representing around 60 to 70% of cases and statistically affecting women more than men. Considered a chronic neurodegenerative disease, Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by a progressive destruction of brain cells. Resulting in memory loss and decrease in reasoning ability. As cognitive function declines, and depending on the stage of the disease, seniors living with Alzheimer’s disease may begin to experience greater difficulty performing everyday tasks. Although the early signs may look similar, the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease are quite different from those of the normal aging process. It is therefore important to differentiate them.
If you notice any changes in memory or thinking skills, either for yourself or for an elderly parent or relative, do not hesitate to contact a healthcare professional to obtain an accurate diagnosis.
2. Vascular dementia
Next to Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia is considered another major cause. One of the particularities of this type of dementia is that the destruction of brain cells results from blood circulation problems, such as a stroke for example. This type of dementia is not really considered a neurodegenerative disease, but it is nevertheless a truly important cause of dementia affecting people of all ages.
Causes and symptoms of vascular dementia
In addition to stroke (cerebrovascular accident), vascular dementia can also result from blood vessel narrowing or brain aneurysms. In all cases, the conclusion is the same, resulting in damage to the brain’s cognitive functions.
Overall, the main symptoms of vascular dementia are still similar to those of other types of dementia, including:
- Memory loss ;
- Difficulties in reasoning ;
- Language problems ;
- Alterations in mood ;
- Diminished autonomy ;
However, a particular characteristic of vascular dementia is that some symptoms may vary depending on the exact location of the vascular problem in cause. For example, damage to the left hemisphere will have different consequences than damage to the right side of the brain.
Knowing how to recognize signs of a stroke
A cerebrovascular accident (CVA), whether hemorrhagic or ischemic, is a major problem that unfortunately may have significant consequences. Besides being a cause of mortality, stroke can also lead to vascular dementia. Although it is difficult to predict the onset of a CVA, it is possible to quickly identify the very first signs associated with it.
As stated by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, every minute counts in such situations requiring quick action. The acronym FAST is suggested as a useful memory aid to help you recognize the signs of a stroke.
- Face: Do you see any signs of facial drooping?
- Arms: Do you notice an inability to raise both arms correctly?
- Speech impairment: Does the person have difficulty with pronunciation?
- Time: If so, this is a serious emergency, and it is time to quickly call 9-1-1 for immediate intervention.
Being able to recognize the early signs of a stroke can not only save lives! It can also help avoid significant sequels. Being alert to these signs is therefore an excellent way to prevent vascular dementia.
3. Mixed dementia
Over time, experts have noticed that different types of dementia may sometimes coexist. In other words, there may be more than one cause to a person’s dementia. This is then identified as a mixed dementia. The most common form is the combination of Alzheimer‘s disease associated with a diagnosis of vascular dementia.
Also known as mixed neurocognitive disorder, this form of dementia requires the evaluation and expertise of a qualified health care professional who will perform a comprehensive medical examination and the necessary tests to confirm the diagnosis. The physician will then be able to propose the best treatments for this condition, making sure to treat each of the causes individually, whenever possible.
4. Lewy body dementia
Although it is less well known than Alzheimer’s disease, Lewy body dementia (LBD) is still the next most common neurodegenerative disease. Even if all the causes of Lewy body dementia are still unknown, experts now recognize that some genetic factors may be involved. However, there is not always a family history related to the disease. Predicting the onset of this disease is therefore very difficult.
Characterized by an abnormal accumulation of proteins in neurons, forming what are called Lewy bodies, this progressive disease involves cognitive, psychological, and behavioral symptoms, as well as movement disorders (parkinsonism).
Here are some specific symptoms that may be recognized in people with Lewy body disease:
- Attention deficit (often present early in the disease);
- Decreased ability to reason, plan and organize daily tasks;
- Impairment of visuo-spatial functions which may manifest as difficulty in locating landmarks, evaluating distances or even visual hallucinations;
- Language problems resulting in the person struggling to find the right words in a conversation and even some problems with pronunciation;
- Tremors (similar to Parkinson’s symptoms);
- Movements affected by the appearance of rigidity;
- Delirium may unfortunately appear during the course of the disease;
- Depression / Anxiety;
Want to learn more about this neurocognitive disorder that affects the daily lives of many seniors? Have a look at our article specifically dedicated to Lewy body disease.
5. Frontotemporal dementia
As its name suggests, frontotemporal dementia has the particularity of impacting two specific areas of the brain: the frontal lobe and the temporal lobe. In people who live with this type of dementia, an atrophy of these two parts of the brain is noted. Considering that the frontotemporal zone oversees memory, language and behavior, this form of dementia tends to cause problems affecting these aspects.
Depending on the stage of the disease, it is therefore possible to observe some progression of symptoms:
- Behavioral changes (sometimes even becoming inappropriate, rude and impulsive/compulsive);
- Personality disorders ;
- Atrophy of the head and neck muscles;
- Language difficulties (both comprehension and communication);
- Impaired thinking and concentration (more easily distracted);
- Memory loss (though generally less frequent than other types of dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease for example).
To confirm frontotemporal dementia, it is essential to consult a doctor. The physician will then base his or her diagnosis on the most specific symptoms, which will later be confirmed by a CT scan and/or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). These imaging techniques allow the healthcare specialist to determine which areas of the brain are affected by the progression of dementia. Following the diagnosis, an appropriate treatment plan can be established, essentially aimed at managing the symptoms.
In addition to these 5 main types of dementia, we can also mention Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and Korsakoff‘s dementia. Although the causes differ, many of the symptoms stay similar.
Some useful tips for the prevention of dementia in seniors
While the onset and progression of major neurocognitive disorders cannot be completely avoided, the good news is that there are some preventive measures that can help reduce the risk.
Here are some tips on how to prevent problems associated with dementia:
- Staying active through regular physical activity;
- Choose leisure activities that stimulate memory;
- Maintain an active social life;
- Avoid smoking and promote a smoke-free environment;
- Preserve good overall health and make sure to treat existing problems;
- Maintain a healthy and balanced diet;
- Control high blood pressure (specially to reduce the risk of vascular dementia).
Caring for seniors living with any type of dementia
At Visavie, our mission is to accompany seniors and their families in their daily lives for maximum well-being and peace of mind. So regardless of the type of dementia your elderly relative may face, know that we are there to help! With a caring and respectful approach, our advisors and professional caregivers place their experience and expertise at your service in order to assist you in dealing with the various challenges of living with a form of dementia on a daily basis.
Did you know that Visavie offers specialized home care for seniors living with Alzheimer‘s or any other type of dementia? Our team is always attentive to the specific needs of seniors affected by cognitive impairment, allowing them to maintain a good quality of life.
Specialized home care services include:
- Help with feeding and meal planning;
- Mobility assistance ;
- Hygiene care ;
- Assistance with dressing and daily tasks;
- Reassuring nighttime presence ;
- And more, based on the specific needs of the person.