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Common types of Dementia

Dementia is not a specific condition or disease. It is a term that is used to describe a range of symptoms associated with loss of memory, thinking skills and behavior skills that significantly reduce a person’s ability to perform everyday activities. Here is a guide to some of the common types of dementia.

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The most common types of dementia are:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Vascular dementia
  • Dementia with Lewy bodies
  • Parkinson’s disease dementia
  • Huntington’s disease
  • Korsakoff’s syndrome (alcohol related dementia)
  • Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease
  • Fronto Temporal Lobar Degeneration (FTLD)
  • AIDS Dementia Complex (ADC)

Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer’s diseaseis responsible for about 70% of all dementia cases. The vast majority of cases are in people over the age of 65 and are a result of sporadic Alzheimer’s disease. However, a less common form, familial Alzheimer’s disease, caused by genetic mutation, can affect people under the age of 65.

Alzheimer’s disease is caused by the build-up of abnormal deposits of protein in the brain. Depending on the type of deposits, the build-ups either occur in the spaces between nerve cells or inside brain cells.

Research into Alzheimer’s disease has really only taken off within the last couple of decades. However, the prevalence of Alzheimer’s means there are now a great deal of resources being put into understanding the disease. While there is a general understanding of what is happening within the brain of Alzheimer’s sufferers, researchers are still trying to determine exactly how and why the build-ups of beta-amyloid and tau occur.

At present, there is no effective treatment that cures or reverses Alzheimer’s disease. There are, however, some drugs that show signs of being able to slow some of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, though the symptoms will inevitably get worse.

For more extensive information read our post What is Alzheimer’s disease?

Vascular dementia

Vascular dementia is the second most common form of dementia. It is sometimes referred to as vascular cognitive impairment (VCI). Vascular dementia occurs when the brain’s blood vessels are damaged or blocked following a stroke or a series of strokes. The exact type of vascular dementia and the degree of resulting cognitive problems depend on the type, location and extent of the damage incurred.

While Alzheimer’s disease tends to affect memory, vascular dementia tends to affect other cognitive skills and its symptoms include:

  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Loss of vision
  • Difficulty in using or understanding speech.

If you are searching for care and support for your loved one, do not rush into the first available option. Visit CareAbout to check various options and facilities, particularly focusing on those who provide specialist dementia care.

Dementia with Lewy bodies

Dementia with Lewy bodies (or Lewy body disease) is a form of dementia in which a build-up of microscopic deposits known as Lewy bodies impair and destroy nerve cells in the brain. Progress of the condition is usually faster than Alzheimer’s disease. The main symptoms are:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Extreme confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Difficulty judging distances
  • Extreme changes in reasoning
  • Tremors and movement associated with Parkinson’s disease.

Parkinson’s disease dementia

Parkinson’s disease is a brain disorder that affects movement, balance, and coordination. Some people with Parkinson’s disease also develop problems with their thinking and reasoning, which indicates dementia associated with Parkinson’s disease. The cause of this dementia is deposits of Lewy bodies, making this form of dementia very similar to dementia with Lewy bodies (see above).

Huntington’s disease

Huntington’s disease is a genetic disease passed from parent to child. It is usually diagnosed between the ages of 35-55. It is caused by a defective gene on chromosome 4 that causes an excessive build-up of the Huntingtin protein. The result is damage to nerve cells in the brain. The main symptoms are:

  • Uncontrolled movement of the body
  • Decline in reasoning
  • Depression
  • Loss of ability to plan and organize
  • Difficulty concentrating.

Korsakoff’s syndrome (alcohol-related dementia)

Alcohol-related dementia is obviously caused by alcohol abuse. There are two main types, Korsakoff’s syndrome and Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. Excessive alcohol use can result in depletion of thiamine (vitamin B1) in the brain. The brain requires thiamine to produce energy. While excessive alcohol is believed to be a leading cause of this form of dementia, it can also be caused by poor nutrition. The main symptoms are:

  • Difficulty learning new things
  • Personality change
  • Memory loss.

Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease

Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) is a rare, degenerative, brain disorder that occurs when prion proteins change shape and start destroying brain cells. Most cases are sporadic, meaning it occurs for no known reason. It can also be genetic i.e. passed down through genes; or acquired i.e. through the eating of infected animal products.

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD)

Frontotemporal dementia is the term given to a range of disorders caused by nerve cell loss in the brain’s frontal or temporal lobes. It is sometimes referred to as frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD). Damage to the frontal lobes (the areas behind your forehead) can result in reduced intellectual abilities and changes in personality, emotion and behaviour. Damage to the temporal lobes (the regions behind your ears) can result in difficulty with language and visual recognition.

AIDS Dementia Complex (ADC)

AIDS Dementia Complex (ADC) or HIV associated dementia is a result of damage to nerve cells though HIV/AIDS. However, not everyone with HIV/AIDS will get ADC. Symptoms intensify as the condition worsens but the use of HIV drugs can prove effective in stopping the onset and progress of ADC.

Support and care

If you are searching for care and support for your loved one, do not rush into the first available option. Visit CareAbout to check various aged care home options and facilities, particularly focusing on those who provide specialist dementia care.

An individual diagnosis of dementia has an impact on a network of people: friends, families and colleagues. Support and further information is available from the National Dementia Helpline 1800 100 500 or at www.dementia.org.au

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