Understanding the Various Forms of Dementia

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

“Many people use the terms dementia and Alzheimer’s disease interchangeably, which can lead to some confusion,” says Reshma Nair, Executive Director of Bridges® by EPOCH at Andover, a memory care assisted living community in Andover, MA. “Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia, yes, but not all dementias are Alzheimer’s disease. While Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, there are a variety of other neurocognitive diseases that fall under the ‘dementia’ umbrella.”


Reshma says that, even though the differences between dementias can be subtle and slight, it’s still very important to understand the various forms. “Part of our role at Bridges by EPOCH is to educate and raise awareness in order to help others understand these diseases and also know what steps can be taken to help improve the quality of life of their loved ones.”


The Alzheimer’s Society reports that there are more than 400 different types of dementia, but generally researchers and experts focus on five major types that make up nearly all of the dementia cases in the world today. Those are: Alzheimer’s disease; vascular dementia; Lewy body/Parkinson’s dementia; frontotemporal dementia; and mixed dementia.


“Knowing what type of dementia someone has can be very helpful in understanding the progression of the disease, as well as what can be done to assist the individual,” Reshma says. “Although we don’t yet have the ability to cure dementia, there are therapies, treatments and medications that can help slow the disease’s progression, especially in the early stages. Understanding the different types of dementia can help family members and friends look for warning signs in their senior loved ones as well.”


The Five Types of Dementia


1. Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, occurring in approximately 60-80 percent of cases. It is a progressive brain disease that affects the entire body and eventually leads to the total loss of all body function. It’s the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, with more than 5.8 million individuals living with it currently. We don’t know exactly why someone develops this form of dementia, although it’s believed to be a mix of genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors.

One of the earliest signs of Alzheimer’s is memory loss, forgetting words, having difficulty remembering information and slight confusion. These symptoms can often be slight enough that the individual and family members view them as a natural progression of aging. However, unlike occasional memory lapses, the confusion will become more and more pronounced as the disease progresses and will interfere with daily life. In the middle stage of dementia, the individual will experience deteriorating physical abilities and increased memory loss, and will require regular assistance in order to live safely. In the late stages of dementia, the individual will need around-the-clock care as their abilities continue to deteriorate.

The disease can progress quickly or slowly, depending on a variety of factors. Although we aren’t completely sure what can definitely slow or halt the progression of Alzheimer’s, a healthy diet, regular physical activity and mental stimulation are all tools that can help an individual live a high quality of life for as long as possible.


2. Vascular dementia

Occurring in 5 to 10 percent of dementia cases, vascular dementia occurs when blood flow to the brain is suddenly and severely reduced, like in a heart attack or stroke. Sometimes it occurs after a large incident, but it’s also possible to have “ministrokes” that the individual is unaware of. This causes the brain cells in that particular part of the brain to die off.

Vascular dementia, unlike other dementias, can appear seemingly out of nowhere, and the symptoms can fluctuate greatly depending on what area of the brain has been affected. Symptoms of vascular dementia are often perception and thinking issues, which can result in confusion, difficulty understanding speech (and speaking), disorientation and other stroke-like symptoms. Because vascular dementia is caused by issues with the cardiovascular system, older adults are urged to follow a heart-healthy diet in order to keep blood vessels as healthy as possible.


3. Lewy body/Parkinson’s dementia

Lewy Body dementia and Parkinson’s dementia are widely considered to be two variants of the same dementia. Both Lewy Body and Parkinson’s dementia develop due to a certain type of protein (lewy bodies) occurring in the brain. Both variants result in disorientation, confusion, hallucinations and nervous system issues. Because the symptoms are so similar to Alzheimer’s disease, it’s difficult to diagnose and may be under-diagnosed as a result. Memory loss associated with these types may be significant, but less prominent than Alzheimer’s disease. Other symptoms may include sleep disturbances, hallucinations, or trouble with the autonomous nervous system, causing issues such as muscle stiffness, dizziness or fainting.


4. Frontotemporal dementia

This type of dementia is caused by progressive nerve cell loss in the brain’s frontotemporal region – the areas behind your forehead and your ears. Unlike other forms of dementia, most people develop frontotemporal dementia in their 40s to 60s, and behavioral changes are often the first sign of this disease. Memory loss doesn’t usually occur until the late stages of this form of dementia.


5. Mixed dementia

This type of dementia has only recently surfaced as a “form” of dementia. It occurs when someone develops two or more forms of dementia, most commonly vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.


“Although we can’t stop the progression of dementia, understanding the different types and their symptoms can help us ensure the highest quality of life for the person,” says Reshma. “As research continues to search for a deeper understanding of dementia and its causes, we in the memory care field will continue to evolve our best practices along with clinical understanding in order to help our residents live the most fulfilling lives possible.”


Exceptional Care. Engaging Lifestyle.

Bridges® by EPOCH at Andover provides specialized memory care in an assisted living environment that is comfortable, positive and welcoming. Built solely to care for those with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, Bridges® by EPOCH at Andover creates a wellness-focused, engaging lifestyle that respects individual preferences, focuses on residents’ abilities and creates meaning in daily life.


 Dedicated Memory Care.

Through every stage of memory loss, residents and their families have complete peace of mind. Our compassionate dementia care and unique programs are tailored to meet the physical, cognitive and emotional needs of each resident wherever they are on their own journey, allowing them to age in place safely, comfortably and with dignity.


 Supportive, Purpose-Built Design.

Featuring a stunning residential design, Bridges® by EPOCH at Andover is much more than a beautiful place to live; it’s a community where residents’ lives are enriched and families enjoy meaningful moments together. Our research-based design features soft colors and lighting, directional cues, aromatherapy and interactive life-enrichment stations that empower residents to explore their homes with confidence.


 Contact us today to learn more.

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