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A Guide to the Different Types of Dementia

• Written by Katie

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Dementia affects thousands of people in the UK. In general, the word 'dementia' refers to a range 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.

Alzheimer's Disease

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.

What is the Difference Between Dementia and Alzheimer's?

Lots of people use these two words interchangeably, but dementia and Alzheimer's aren't quite the same. Dementia is the name for a group of symptoms including memory loss, difficulty with speech and communication, and issues with visual perception. Think of it as an umbrella term; there are several different kinds of dementia. Alzheimer's disease is one form of dementia. In other words, Alzheimer's is a specific brain disease that causes dementia symptoms.

Symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease

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. You may struggle to remember new information. This is because the disease usually affects the parts of the brain that deal with learning first.

Over a period of 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.

Diagnosis

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 make an appointment with your GP.

No single test can diagnose Alzheimer's, but your doctor will ask several 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."

Treatment

Sadly, there is no cure for Alzheimer's disease. However, there are treatments that can slow its progress and relieve symptoms. People in the early to mid-stages of Alzheimer's can take a group of drugs called acetylcholinesterase inhibitors (donepezil, galantamine, and rivastigmine). Only specialists like psychiatrists, neurologists, and geriatricians can prescribe these medications.

Anybody with Alzheimer's disease will eventually need plenty of support to live safely at home. An occupational therapist can help you identify problems and risks in your everyday life, in order to find the right solutions. You may wish to install a personal alarm system to give you and your loved ones peace of mind. Having a personal alarm can also help you to stay independent in your own home for as long as possible.

Psychological treatments, such as cognitive stimulation, can improve and maintain your memory, problem-solving skills, and language ability.

Vascular Dementia

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 often the result of a stroke or series of mini-strokes. It is most common in those aged over 65.

Symptoms

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 many 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, you will have a series of assessments. 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:

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 helping make your everyday life easier. Speech and language therapy, physiotherapy and occupational therapy can all make a huge difference. Installing a personal alarm system can provide reassurance - in the event of an accident or medical emergency, the user can call for help with just the touch of a button. There are also automatic fall detectors for those who may not remember or be able to press their alarm button.

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."

Symptoms of Lewy Body Dementia

Dementia with Lewy bodies will typically cause the same symptoms as other types of dementia. However, there are a few specific symptoms that can distinguish it from other conditions:

  • Slow movement, stiff limbs, tremors and shuffling when walking - just like with Parkinson's disease.
  • Hallucinating.
  • Fainting.
  • Marked swings between alertness and confusion or sleepiness.
  • Disturbed sleep.
  • Difficulty swallowing.
  • Depression.

If you think you're experiencing any of these symptoms, you should make an appointment with 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 that will slow the condition down. However, there are treatments that 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. Other common dementia therapies will also be available, such as occupational therapy.

People with Lewy body dementia may be more prone to falls and accidents. We would strongly recommend having a Fall Detector alarm system in place to give the user and their family maximum peace of mind.

Frontotemporal Dementia

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."

Symptoms of Frontotemporal Dementia

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 that 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 treatments that can help to control your symptoms, such as:

  • Physiotherapy.
  • Occupational therapy.
  • Speech and language therapy.
  • Support groups.
  • Medicines.

To control the loss of inhibitions, a doctor might prescribe antidepressants known as SSRIs.

Other Types of Dementia

  1. 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.
  2. Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease - a rare but fatal condition that affects your brain.

VAT Exemption

People with dementia are eligible for VAT Exemption when they order a personal alarm system from Lifeline24. This means that you will not have to pay any VAT on your Lifeline alarm if you have dementia yourself or are buying an alarm on behalf of someone else with the condition.

To find out more read our guide to VAT Exemption here.

Personal Alarm Information

A Lifeline24 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 additional peace of mind, purchase a fall detector alarm. This will activate automatically if the user experience a fall.

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 info@lifeline24.co.uk or fill in our Contact Us form and we will get back to you as soon as possible.

You can order your new Lifeline alarm online today.

Editor's Note: This article was updated on 20th June 2022 to reflect current information.

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2 Thoughts On This Blog
Kay Nixon says:
05/07/2020 at 11:00

Hello N. My maķme is kay nixonkay20@gmail.com . I think that I am suffering from dementia I have a carer, we don’t get help from anyone can toy advice me to the Best care provider. I am insured if that he loop s. Thanks miss kay Nixon

Katie says:
06/07/2020 at 8:44

Hello Kay, Our advice would be to make an appointment with your GP to begin with. Most doctors are offering telephone appointments during the pandemic, so you can be seen safely without needing to go into the GP surgery. Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and, if necessary, they can refer you to a dementia specialist. They will be able to advise you about the best care providers in your area. I hope this helps. Kind regards, Lifeline24

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