Dementia is a term which refers to a set of symptoms relating to your memory, language and understanding. Most people know about Alzheimer’s disease, however there are several different types of dementia.
In today’s post we look at the different types of dementia, including their symptoms and treatments. For an overall guide to dementia, please read or our useful guide.
This is the most common type of dementia, with an estimated 850,000 people affected in the UK. Alzheimer’s disease is most common in people over the age of 65, and affects slightly more women than men.
Your chances of being diagnosed with this type of dementia increases as you get older, with the condition affecting an estimated one in 14 people over the age of 65 and one in every six people over the age of 80.
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive medical condition, so any symptoms will develop gradually and become more severe over the course of several years. Commonly, the first sign of the condition is minor memory problems such as forgetting about recent conversations and the names of places and objects.
Over the weeks and months, your memory may begin to worsen and other symptoms may develop, such as:
- Speech and language problems.
- Personality changes.
- Confusion, disorientation and getting lost in familiar places.
- Low moods or anxiety.
- Hallucinations and delusions.
Due to the slow progression of Alzheimer’s disease, it can be difficult for acknowledge that there is a problem. This is especially the case in older people as they feel that memory problems are just a part of getting old.
Diagnosis & Treatment
An early diagnosis can provide you with the best chance to prepare and plan for your future, including any treatments and support. Therefore, if you’re worried in any way about your memory or if you’ve experienced any of the symptoms shown in the post, you should visit your doctor.
No single test will be able to diagnose the condition, but your doctor will ask questions about any of the problems you have been experiencing and may do some tests to rule out any other medical conditions.
You may be referred to a specialist memory assessment service, where professionals from multiple disciplines can help the diagnosis. A common test used at this stage is the mini mental state examination. The NHS explain:
One widely used test is the mini mental state examination (MMSE). This involves being asked to carry out activities such as memorising a short list of objects correctly and identifying the current day of the week, month and year. Different memory clinics may also use other, longer tests. The MMSE isn’t used to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease, but it’s useful to initially assess areas of difficulty that a person with the condition may have.”
Sadly, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but medication is available to help relieve some of your symptoms and to slow down the progression of the condition. A group of AChE inhibitors (donepezil, galantamine and rivastigmine) can be prescribed to those with early to mid-stage Alzheimer’s condition. All of these medications can only be prescribed by specialists such as psychiatrists, neurologists and geriatricians.
Anybody with the condition will need plenty of support for them to live as independently as possible. An occupational therapist will be able to identify any problems or unsafe areas in your everyday life, and the solutions to them.
Psychological treatments, such as cognitive stimulation, may be offered to help improve your memory, problem solving skills and language ability.
This type of dementia affects around 17% of those who have been diagnosed, which is around 150,000 people. Vascular dementia is caused by reduced blood flow to your brain and is most common in those aged over 65.
A reduction in blood flow to your brain can be caused by the narrowing and blockage of the small blood cells inside your brain, as well a single stroke or a series of mini strokes.
Vascular dementia can either start suddenly or come on slowly over time, with symptoms worsening and the condition progresses. Symptoms to look out for include:
- Problems with concentration.
- Personality and behavioural changes.
- Difficulty with planning and understanding.
- Slowness of thought.
- Feeling disorientated and confused.
- Difficulty balancing and walking.
- Memory and language problems.
In most cases, those with vascular dementia will also have Alzheimer’s disease.
Diagnosis & Treatment
Like with most medical conditions, if you’re worried that you have been showing early symptoms of vascular dementia you should see your doctor. An early diagnosis could help to slow down the condition and limit its effects.
For a diagnosis to be made, a series of assessments will take place. This will include a common assessment of your symptoms, full medical history (including questions about conditions linked to vascular dementia, such as strokes and high blood pressure), an assessment of your mental abilities and a brain scan.
Currently, there is no cure for vascular dementia, however treatment can sometimes slow down the condition and reduce the speed at which brain cells are lost. There are plenty of lifestyle changes that you can make to help you in your fight against dementia, such as:
- Exercising and keeping active.
- Stopping smoking.
- Cutting down on alcohol.
- Losing weight.
- Eating healthily.
Medications taken to treat hypertension, lower cholesterol and to prevent blood clots may also be helpful. Just as with Alzheimer’s disease, support and therapy is key to help make your everyday life easier. Useful therapy includes speech and language therapy, physiotherapy and occupational therapy.
Dementia with Lewy Bodies
This is another common form of dementia, affecting more than 100,000 people in the UK. Like with more types of dementia, this condition is common in those aged 65 and over. Other names for this condition include Lewy body dementia, Lewy body variant of Alzheimer’s disease and cortical Lewy body disease.
The Alzheimer’s Society have given the following definition of Lewy bodies:
Lewy bodies are tiny deposits of a protein (alpha-synuclein) that appear in nerve cells in the brain. Researchers don’t have a full understanding of why Lewy bodies appear, or exactly how they contribute to dementia.”
Dementia with Lewy bodies will typically cause the same symptoms as other types of dementia, however here are a few other symptoms which help to distinguish it from others:
- Slow movement, stiff limbs, tremors and shuffling when walking – just like with Parkinson’s disease.
- Marked swings between alertness and confusion or sleepiness.
- Disturbed sleep.
- Difficulty swallowing.
Again, if you think you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, or those commonly associated with dementia, you need to visit your doctor as soon as possible.
Diagnosis & Treatment
As there is no single test to diagnose dementia with Lewy bodies, your doctor will need to take an assessment of your symptoms and your mental ability. Blood tests will also be carried out to rule out other medical conditions which have similar symptoms.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for dementia with Lewy bodies or any treatments which will slow the condition down. However, there are treatments available which can help to control some of your symptoms for several years.
You may be given Acetylcholinesterase inhibitors, which will help to improve any hallucinations, confusion and sleepiness that you may encounter. These work by increasing levels of a chemical called acetylcholine in the brain, which improves the ability of the brain cells to send signals to each other.
Other medication will also be available to help with any movement problems, depression, disturbed sleep or challenging behaviour changes that you have been suffering from. The common dementia therapies will also be available, such as occupational therapy.
This type of dementia commonly affects the front and sides of your brain (frontal and temporal lobes) and can lead to problems with your behaviour and language. Unlike other types of dementia, Frontotemporal dementia common affects slightly younger people, with most cases being diagnosed in those aged between 45 and 65.
The frontal lobes of the brain are responsible for behaviour, problem-solving, planning and the control of your emotions. Speech is also controlled by the left frontal lobe. The temporal lobes have several different roles, with the left lobe dealing with the meaning of words and names of objects. The right temporal lobe is usually involved in recognising faces and familiar objects.
The Alzheimer’s Society explain the causes of Frontotemporal dementia:
Frontotemporal dementia occurs when nerve cells in the frontal and/or temporal lobes of the brain die, and the pathways that connect the lobes change. Some of the chemical messengers that transmit signals between nerve cells are also lost. Over time, as more and more nerve cells die, the brain tissue in the frontal and temporal lobes shrinks.
The symptoms for frontotemporal dementia include:
- Language and speech problems.
- Personality and behaviour changes.
- Problems with mental abilities.
- Memory problems.
- Slow or stiff movement.
- Difficulty swallowing.
A common symptom of this type of dementia is for you to begin acting inappropriately or impulsively, or by appearing selfish or unsympathetic. It is also common to those affected to neglect their personal hygiene and have a lack of motivation.
Diagnosis & Treatment
The same assessment and tests are carried out as the other types of dementia in this article. However, there is one test which is different – the lumbar puncture. This will test your spinal fluid to help rule out Alzheimer’s disease as the cause of your symptoms.
Currently, there is no cure for this type of dementia, or any treatments that will slow the condition down. However, there are treatment options which will help to control your symptoms, such as:
- Occupational therapy.
- Speech and language therapy.
- Support groups.
To help control the loss of any inhibitions or any compulsive behaviour, you may be given some antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.
Other Types of Dementia
- Young-onset Dementia – This is the term given to those who have been diagnosed with dementia under the age of 65. An estimated 42,000 younger people are believed to have dementia.
- Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease – A rare but fatal condition which affects your brain. This type is caused by an abnormally shaped protein called a prion infecting the brain.
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