Types of Dementia and Their Symptoms

An older man looks at a photograph, demonstrating symptoms of dementia.

Contrary to popular belief, dementia isn't just one specific disease but is actually an umbrella term for a few different conditions.

As we age, it's normal to lose some of the neurons in our brain—this experience is almost as common as older adults experiencing changes in sight loss or hearing loss. We’re here to help as your loved one goes through these changes. You are not alone.

This resource dives deeper into the different types of dementia and how they impact a person's problem-solving skills to help you and your family better understand any changes in cognitive function for someone that you love.

What is Dementia?

According to the National Institute on Aging, "dementia is the loss of cognitive functioning – thinking, remembering, and reasoning – to such an extent that it interferes with a person's daily life and activities."

Moreover, the term dementia describes a wide range of neurological, progressive conditions, specifically referring to symptoms that impact:

  • Memory
  • Thinking
  • Social abilities
  • Behavior

Additionally, it is a progressive disease, with the dementia-like symptoms advancing over time. If you're concerned that a loved one is developing dementia, it's important to educate yourself on the different types of dementia to better understand what they may be experiencing.

Alzheimer's Disease

Alzheimer's disease is the most common type of dementia, accounting for 60% to 80% of all cases. Some people may develop early-onset Alzheimer's, with roughly 5% of these cases occurring in a person's 40s and 50s.

Medically-speaking, individuals with Alzheimer's disease develop clumps of the beta-amyloid protein (known as plaques) and fibrous tangles of the tau protein (known as tangles) in their brains.

As more and more of these plaques and tangles form during this brain disorder, they may damage healthy neurons and their connections, leading to common Alzheimer's disease symptoms.

Researchers believe there isn't a single cause of Alzheimer's disease. It likely develops from multiple factors, such as genetics, lifestyle and environment…. While some risk factors — age, family history and heredity — can't be changed, emerging evidence suggests there may be other factors we can influence (alz.org).

Symptoms of Alzheimer's

As Alzheimer's progresses, people are more likely to experience confusion and changes in their mood. Mobility issues, like trouble walking, are also likely to occur, along with speech problems.

Early symptoms can include:

  • Forgetting names and events
  • A decline in personal hygiene and self-care
  • Disorientation

Alzheimer's is broken down into seven stages of progression, with symptoms initially appearing around Stage Two. During Stage Four, these symptoms become more apparent and diagnosable. The progression continues and worsens up to Stage Seven when people with Alzheimer's typically require consistent health care.

Vascular Dementia

According to the Alzheimer's Association, vascular dementia is a decline in thinking skills caused by a block of blood flow to the brain, depriving it of oxygen and nutrients. Although it is considered one of the most common forms of dementia, many experts believe that vascular dementia often goes undiagnosed. It is estimated that "about 5% to 10% of people with dementia have vascular dementia alone;" however, it is often seen as part of a "mixed dementia" diagnosis.

You can develop vascular dementia after a stroke blocks an artery in your brain, but strokes don't always cause vascular dementia… Vascular dementia can also result from other conditions that damage blood vessels and reduce circulation, depriving your brain of vital oxygen and nutrients (mayoclinic.org).

Symptoms of Vascular Dementia

Early symptoms and signs can appear slowly over time or suddenly, depending on their cause.

Signs can include:

  • Disorientation and confusion
  • Issues with focus, concentration, and completing tasks

Frontotemporal Dementia

In frontotemporal dementia, the brain cell connections found in the frontal lobes and temporal lobes of the brain break down. Because these areas of the brain are often associated with personality, behavior, and language, the individuals diagnosed with Frontotemporal dementia experience behavior, thinking, reasoning, and personality changes.

Frontotemporal dementia can begin as early as age 45 and, according to the Alzheimer's Association, is inherited in about a third of all cases.

The cause of FTD is unknown. Researchers have linked certain subtypes of FTD to mutations on several genes (hopkinsmedicine.org).

Symptoms of Frontotemporal Dementia

This form of dementia causes loss of inhibitions and motivation and can contribute to compulsive behavior. Another common symptom is the inability to remember the meaning of words. In addition, frontotemporal dementia can lead to worsening effects on speech, considered more severe than Alzheimer's.

Unlike other types of dementia, memory problems typically present themselves later as frontotemporal dementia progresses.

Lewy Body Dementia

Lewy body dementia is characterized by the buildup of protein deposits, called Lewy bodies, that develop in nerve cells in the part of the brain involved in thinking, memory, and movement (motor control); these deposits lead to cognitive decline.

According to the Mayo Clinic, this protein is also associated with Parkinson's disease. People who have Lewy bodies in their brains also have the plaques and tangles associated with Alzheimer's disease.

A few factors seem to increase the risk of developing Lewy body dementia, including age - people older than 60 are at greater risk; sex - Lewy body dementia affects more men than women; and family history - those who have a family member with Lewy body dementia or Parkinson's disease are at greater risk. (mayoclinic.org)

Symptoms of Dementia with Lewy Bodies

People living with Lewy body dementia can also experience visual hallucinations and have problems involving sleep; for instance, falling asleep during the day or having trouble falling asleep during the nighttime.

Mixed Dementia

It is possible that your loved one may be experiencing a combination of types of dementia. According to the Mayo Clinic, "autopsy studies of the brains of people 80 and older who had dementia indicate that many had a combination of several causes, such as Alzheimer's disease, vascular dementia, and Lewy body dementia." The term "mixed dementia" means that the person diagnosed with dementia is living with more than one type. While research is still ongoing to determine how symptoms are affected by mixed dementia, these symptoms will vary from person to person depending on which areas of the brain are affected. Therefore, an individual's symptoms may reflect one form of dementia; however, it is also likely that symptoms may suggest that multiple forms of dementia are present.

Moving Forward After a Dementia Diagnosis - Contact St. Andrew's

If a loved one has received a diagnosis of dementia, it's crucial to communicate with their doctor to understand which type of dementia has been diagnosed. This will allow you and your family to:

  • Gain a better understanding of what to expect
  • Find appropriate education and care resources
  • Start planning for the future

St. Andrew's transitional and secure dementia care helps older adults experiencing Alzheimer's disease, other forms of dementia, and other types of memory loss and cognitive impairment feel fulfilled. Families can rest assured knowing our knowledgeable caregivers help residents feel at ease, understood, and valued throughout the day and night.

Contact us to learn more or schedule a tour.

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