One of the most heartbreaking experiences a person can face is watching a loved one slowly deteriorate due to dementia. At first, they may be only forgetting small details, which later progresses to significant details, such as what street they live on, or who their family members are.
While always disconcerting, it’s important to realize that not all dementia cases are the same.
What Is Dementia?
Dementia is an umbrella term used to cover several conditions that all result in the decline of a patient’s cognitive abilities such as; the capacity to understand concepts, process information, sustain concentration on a task or conversation, the ability to remember details and people, the ability to speak, reason, and utilize motor skills.
The 10 Most Common Types of Dementia
There are a variety of diseases that are considered to be a form of dementia. The most frequently diagnosed include:
1. Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s Disease is a progressive condition that causes neuronal loss in the part of the brain that’s responsible for learning, creating memories, and expressing emotion. It’s the most common form of dementia. Between 60 and 80% of all dementia-related diagnoses is Alzheimer’s disease. It progresses in stages, the patient will start forgetting simple things (such as how many sugars they like in their coffee), to forgetting important facts about their life and personal history. Eventually, Alzheimer’s Disease patients lose their motor skills and need 24/7 care.
2. Lewy-Body Disease (LBD)
LBD is the second most common type of dementia. Since the announcement that the late actor Robin Williams had been living with this disease prior to his death, Lewy-Body Disease has gained more attention. The disease occurs when protein deposits build up on the nerve cells in the brain stem. It results in muscle rigidity, uncontrollable behavioral issues, tremors, and cognitive loss.
People with Lewy-Body Disease often experience recurring hallucinations, difficulty sleeping, and long periods of time staring into space. Just as Alzheimer’s, it’s a progressive condition. Complications include tremors and aggressive behavior.
3. Huntington’s Disease (HD)
This form of dementia has a devastating effect on families because it is the result of an inherited defective gene. When a person has HD, there is a 50% likelihood that their children will have it too.
The disease impairs judgment, causes speech problems, and leads to depression and mood disorders. Symptoms of Huntington’s Disease start earlier than other forms of dementia; usually between the ages of 30 and 50. In rare cases, it can occur in a patient who is in their 20s. This form is known as Juvenile Huntington’s Disease. Some of the earliest signs are changes in personality, involuntary body movements (also known as chorea), slurred speech, forgetfulness, and an unsteady gait while walking.
4. Vascular Dementia
This occurs when blood flow to the brain is interrupted. It is often caused by a stroke, coronary artery disease, or advanced diabetes. Early signs include confusion, difficulty concentrating or focusing on a task, an inability to communicate thoughts, and a decline in the ability to think analytically.
5. Parkinson’s Dementia
While the most well-known side-effect of Parkinson’s Disease is involuntary tremors, the condition may also result in a decreased attention span and a slowness in processing thoughts. Patients frequently have difficulty finding the right words to communicate their thoughts. As the illness progresses, it often causes dementia. Parkinson’s Dementia causes the patient to develop memory loss, poor judgment, speech problems and difficulty with abstract thoughts. That being said, it’s important to note that not everyone who has Parkinson’s Disease develops Parkinson’s Dementia.
6. Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus (NPH)
This dementia is the result of cerebrospinal fluid build up in the brain’s cavities. It occurs most often in older adults who are over the age of 60.
The pressure NPH causes in the brain results in an interruption of functional abilities such as mobility, bladder control, speech, and memory. In fact, one of the earliest symptoms is incontinence and the inability to control leg movements. While still a serious condition, the good news is that, unlike most forms of dementia, NPH is reversible.
7. Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS)
Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome is caused by a lack of vitamin B-1 or Thiamine. Early symptoms include vision problems and exaggerated storytelling. It’s most commonly seen in alcoholics, cancer patients, long-term dialysis patients, and people who are malnourished.
It is more likely to occur in patients who have undergone gastric bypass surgery since their digestive system doesn’t absorb all nutrients consumed. The most common symptoms include a drooping eyelid, double vision, hallucinations, difficulty processing information, and aggressive behavior.
8. Frontotemporal Dementia
Also known as Pick’s Disease. It affects the parts of the brain that are responsible for one’s personality. Early signs include socially inappropriate or impulsive behavior, lack of empathy, lack of judgment, and a decline in personal hygiene. It tends to occur in patients in their 40s and is often misdiagnosed as a psychiatric disorder.
9. Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease
This type of dementia progresses much faster than other types. It is famously known for affecting people who were thought to have been suffering from “Mad Cow Disease” in the 1990s. Symptoms include difficulty swallowing, speaking, and sleeping, blurred vision, memory loss, personality changes, and sudden, involuntary body movements.
10. Mixed Dementia
Mixed Dementia occurs when a patient experiences two or more types of dementia simultaneously. Most cases are initially diagnosed as Alzheimer’s Disease. Because of this, coexisting types go untreated.
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When a Senior with Alzheimer’s is Hospitalized
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