Dementia expresses itself uniquely in each person, and different types of dementia can take on different characteristics. Often patients, their families, and even some healthcare professionals can have a hard time distinguishing the varied types of dementia, tending to lump all dementias under the title of Alzheimer’s Disease. This does the patient a disservice, because recognizing the hallmarks of different types of dementia can illuminate the best ways to understand, treat, and anticipate the needs of those patients.
Dementia is an umbrella term to describe a certain set of symptoms that indicate a brain disorder of some kind. Symptoms of dementia commonly include memory loss, decreased cognitive functioning, and problems with speech, thinking, and reasoning to the extent that the individual’s ability to participate in activities of daily living (ADLs) is compromised. Dementia itself is not a specific disease; rather, it’s an indication that something more specific is going on.
Common Types of Dementia
Many of these conditions share symptoms, with occasional differences and distinctive signifiers. Keep in mind that there can also be dementia that is temporary or reversible, brought on by alcohol or drug abuse, head trauma, or heart disease. The above infographic illustrates the many different forms of dementia, how common they are, and what they are most often characterized by.
- Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common type of dementia, accounting for 60 to 80 percent of cases. It’s caused by an accumulation of plaques and tangles in the brain, and can cause memory loss, behavioral changes, and confusion.
- Vascular Dementia accounts for about 40 percent of dementia cases, often coexisting alongside Alzheimer’s and/or dementia with Lewy bodies. It is usually caused by strokes or bleeding in the brain, and can cause impaired judgement and decision making, poor balance, and decreased motor function.
- Dementia with Lewy Bodies often coexists with Alzheimer’s and vascular pathologies, and is caused by protein deposits (Lewy bodies) that develop in nerve cells in the cortex. Symptoms are similar to Alzheimer’s, with early symptoms that include sleep disturbances, visual hallucinations, and visuospatial impairment.
- Fronto-Temporal Lobar Degeneration (FTLD) accounts for about 10 percent of dementia cases and is caused by atrophy in the nerve cells of the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. Most individuals with FTLD begin displaying symptoms, which include personality changes and difficulty comprehending language, between ages 45 and 60.
- Parkinson’s Disease can cause problems with movement, such as slowness, muscle rigidity, and gait changes. The incidence of PD is about one-tenth of that of Alzheimer’s.
- Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease is a rare and rapidly fatal form of dementia that impairs memory and coordination, and can cause behavioral changes. It may be hereditary, sporadic, or caused by a known prion infection.
- Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus accounts for less than 5 percent of dementia cases, and is caused by a buildup of fluid that increases pressure in the brain. Symptoms include difficulty walking, memory loss, and urinary incontinence.
When is it dementia?
It is important to note that memory loss, even memory loss concurrent with aging, does not necessarily determine dementia. Dementia is typically only diagnosed when the memory loss or decreased cognitive functioning impacts the individual’s ability to perform daily activities. As one physician notes the difference this way: The experience of misplacing keys or a wallet is common; forgetting how to use keys, or forgetting what a credit card or driver’s license is for could indicate a deeper problem. Further, while dementia is most common in older adults, it should not be considered a typical aspect of aging and many actions can be taken to decrease the risk of cognitive decline.
To learn more about symptoms and signs of Alzheimer’s, read the SimTalk Blog article “6 Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease.”
If you’d like a comprehensive guide to Alzheimer’s to keep in your office or classroom, see the “Understanding Alzheimer’s Chart” from Pocket Nurse. To practice administering one of the most common drugs prescribed for dementia, consider Demo Dose Namend.
Nicki Murff is Marketing Coordinator II at Pocket Nurse.
The Alzheimer’s Association