The Alzheimer’s Association defines dementia as a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life. This loss of mental ability may present as memory loss, confusion, inability to communicate, and/or a decline in reasoning and thinking abilities. There are several types of dementia; this article will introduce the three most common.
Types of Dementia
Alzheimer’s Disease – Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia in seniors. This is an irreversible, progressive dementia. It occurs when message-carrying neuron cells in the brain lose the ability to communicate with the rest of the body. Examination of a patient’s brain usually shows abnormal clumps and fibers that are thought to hinder the work of the neurons. The cause of Alzheimer’s disease is not completely understood, but it is thought to be a combination of genetic and lifestyle factors. Memory loss is typically the first symptom to appear and is often the cause for encouraging a loved one to see a doctor.
As Alzheimer’s disease progresses, a person’s ability to remember basic information and carry out daily tasks diminishes. An Alzheimer’s patient may experience frequent bouts of confusion surrounding people and events. Mom may recognize a friend one day, and then have no clue who they are the next. She may experience anxiety that borders on paranoia, even when there is nothing to be afraid of. Dad may have trouble communicating basic needs, such as feeling too hot or needing a drink of water. This might cause him to lash out aggressively, or to become depressed and moody. He may lose interest in favorite activities and have trouble participating in conversations due to decreased short-term memory. Alzheimer’s is not curable, but it is treatable. Treatment for Alzheimer’s involves a combination of medication and behavioral therapy.
Lewy Body Dementia – Lewy body dementia, another form of progressive dementia, can cause symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s. Lewy body dementia is thought to be caused by an abnormal build-up of protein deposits in the brain. These deposits interfere with the normal functioning of the brain and can lead to decreased thinking ability, memory loss, and motor control. One hallmark of Lewy body dementia is the wide variety in cognitive abilities patients can exhibit, even over the course of a few hours. Your loved one may be totally alert when you visit at breakfast time, but appear drowsy and confused at dinnertime, for example. Other symptoms include vivid hallucinations and sleep disorders, such as REM Sleep Disorder, in which a person acts out their dreams.
Lewy body dementia shares some aspects of Parkinson’s Disease, such as muscle rigidity, changes in walking gait, and gradual loss of motor control. Lewy body dementia is not curable, but it can be treated with a combination of medication and lifestyle remedies. You can help your loved one by creating a predictable routine and keeping their environment as peaceful as possible.
Vascular Dementia – Vascular dementia is caused by decreased blood flow to the brain, which damages the many tiny blood vessels there. Causes of this damage include stroke, heart disease, smoking, and conditions such as high blood pressure and heart disease. Symptoms depend on how much of the brain is affected and how extensive the damage is. They include trouble communicating with and understanding others, confusion and disorientation, and decreased vision. A person with vascular dementia may exhibit inappropriate responses, such as laughing during a sad movie. They may also experience hallucinations, memory problems, and trouble with bladder control. Motor control is often affected, leading to difficulty walking. These symptoms may occur immediately after a stroke, which makes the diagnosis of vascular dementia easier. But they can also emerge gradually during a series of smaller strokes, or if the vascular dementia is due to another condition.
There is no cure for vascular dementia, but it can be managed to an extent. Treatment for vascular dementia focuses on slowing damage to blood cells. This means careful control of high blood pressure, cholesterol, and any underlying conditions, such as diabetes. Some medications used for Alzheimer’s may also prove helpful in treating vascular dementia.
Alzheimer’s disease, Lewy body dementia, and vascular dementia are the three most common types of dementia, but not all cases of dementia fit neatly into these three categories. Sometimes vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s overlap, for example. Regardless of the type of dementia your loved one has, the most important thing is to seek treatment early. Caring for someone with dementia is best done with a team of professionals on your side. There are multiple caregiver and community resources in the Los Angeles area to ensure that you don’t have to go through this alone.