Dementia affects thousands of people in the UK. Dementia generally refers to a set of symptoms relating to memory, language and understanding. According to current statistics, dementia currently affects around 850,000 people in the UK. But are you aware of the different types of dementia? Most people have heard of Alzheimer’s disease, which is the most common form of dementia. However, there are several other types to be aware of too.
In today’s post, we’ll look at the different types of dementia, including their symptoms and treatments.
This is the most common type of dementia, with an estimated 500,000 people affected in the UK. Alzheimer’s disease is most common in people over 65. It affects slightly more women than men.
Your chances of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis increase as you get older, with the condition affecting around 1 in 14 people over the age of 65. This goes up to 1 in every 6 people over the age of 80.
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive medical condition. Therefore, symptoms develop gradually and become more severe as time goes by. Commonly, the first sign of the condition is minor memory problems. For example: forgetting recent conversations or the names of places and objects.
Over the weeks and months, your memory may 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 hard to notice that something is wrong. This is especially the case in older people; many feel that memory problems are just a part of getting older.
For more information on Alzheimer’s symptoms, see our guide to the symptoms of dementia.
An early diagnosis gives you the best chance to prepare for your future, including any treatments and support. Therefore, if you’re worried about your memory or you’ve experienced any of the symptoms we’ve discussed, you should visit your doctor.
No single test can diagnose Alzheimer’s, but your doctor will ask questions about your symptoms. They may also do some tests to rule out any other medical conditions.
A doctor may refer you to a specialist memory assessment service, where professionals from multiple disciplines can help the diagnosis. A common test at this stage is the mini mental state examination. The NHS explains:
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. However, there are treatments which can slow its progress and relieve symptoms. People in the early to mid stages of Alzheimer’s can take a group of AChE inhibitors (donepezil, galantamine and rivastigmine). Only specialists like psychiatrists, neurologists and geriatricians can prescribe these medications.
Anybody with Alzheimer’s disease or any of the other types of dementia will need plenty of support to live as independently as possible. An occupational therapist can help you identify problems and risks in your everyday life, in order to find the right solutions.
Psychological treatments, such as cognitive stimulation, may help improve and maintain your memory, problem-solving skills and language ability.
This type of dementia accounts for around 20% of diagnoses, roughly 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 vessels inside your brain. A single stroke or a series of mini-strokes can also be causes.
Vascular dementia can either start suddenly or appear slowly over time. Look out for the following symptoms:
- 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.
For more information on vascular dementia symptoms, see our guide to the symptoms of dementia.
Diagnosis & Treatment
If you think you are 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.
Before a diagnosis, a series of assessments will take place. This will include an 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 its progress and limit the damage to brain cells. There are also plenty of lifestyle changes that can help you in the fight against several types of dementia, such as:
- Exercising and keeping active.
- Stopping smoking.
- Cutting down on alcohol.
- Losing weight.
- Eating healthily.
Medications to treat hypertension, lower cholesterol and to prevent blood clots may also be helpful. Just as with Alzheimer’s disease, support and therapy are key to help make your everyday life easier. Speech and language therapy, physiotherapy and occupational therapy can all make a huge difference.
Dementia with Lewy Bodies
This is a slightly rarer form of dementia, affecting more than 100,000 people in the UK. Dementia with Lewy bodies represents around 15% of all dementia cases. Like with most types of dementia, this condition is common in those aged 65 and over.
The Alzheimer’s Society gives 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, there 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.
If you think you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, you should visit your doctor as soon as possible.
For more information on Lewy body dementia symptoms, see our guide to the symptoms of dementia.
Diagnosis & Treatment
As there is no single test to diagnose dementia with Lewy bodies, your doctor will need to assess your symptoms and your mental ability. You will also have blood tests to rule out other medical conditions with similar symptoms.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for dementia with Lewy bodies, nor any treatments which will slow the condition down. However, there are treatments which can control and relieve some symptoms for several years.
Other medication will also be available to help with any movement problems, depression, disturbed sleep or challenging behaviour changes. The common dementia therapies will also be available, such as occupational therapy.
This is one of the rarer types of dementia. Frontotemporal dementia makes up around 5% of dementia cases in the UK. It commonly affects the front and sides of your brain (frontal and temporal lobes) and can lead to problems with behaviour and language. Unlike other types of dementia, frontotemporal dementia usually affects slightly younger people, with most people receiving a diagnosis between 45 and 65.
The frontal lobes of the brain are responsible for behaviour, problem-solving, planning and the control of your emotions. The left frontal lobe also controls speech. The temporal lobes have several different roles. The left lobe deals with the meaning of words and names of objects, while the right temporal lobe helps you recognise faces and familiar objects.
The Alzheimer’s Society explains 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 of frontotemporal dementia include:
- Language and speech problems.
- Personality and behaviour changes.
- Problems with mental abilities.
- Memory problems.
- Slow or stiff movement.
- Difficulty swallowing.
Acting impulsively or inappropriately, sometimes appearing selfish or unsympathetic, can be a symptom of this kind of dementia. It is also common for those affected to neglect their personal hygiene and have a lack of motivation.
For more information on frontotemporal dementia symptoms, see our guide to the symptoms of dementia.
Diagnosis & Treatment
To diagnose frontotemporal dementia, doctors will assess your symptoms and mental abilities, as well as carrying out blood tests and other assessments. However, there is one test which is different: the lumbar puncture. This involves testing spinal fluid to rule out Alzheimer’s disease as the cause of your symptoms.
Currently, there is no cure for this type of dementia, nor 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 control the loss of inhibitions, a doctor might prescribe antidepressants known as SSRIs.
Other Types of Dementia
- Young-onset Dementia – a term for dementia in those under the age of 65. An estimated 42,000 people are believed to have young-onset dementia.
- Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease – a rare but fatal condition which affects your brain.
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To find out more read our guide to VAT Exemption here.
Personal Alarm Information
A Lifeline alarm is a great resource for somebody with dementia. Our life-saving personal alarm service helps elderly and disabled people remain independent and continue living in their own homes. With a Lifeline alarm, the user can call for help whenever they need it with just the touch of a button. For more information about the personal alarm service, please get in touch with our friendly team on 0800 999 0400. Alternatively, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or fill in our Contact Us form and we will get back to you as soon as possible.
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Editor’s Note: This article was updated on 21 December 2020 to reflect current information.
Originally published 15 May 2018.