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common types of Dementia

The term ‘dementia’ is an umbrella term used to describe the symptoms of cognitive impairment.  And within the dementia umbrella, there are many different variations – Alzheimer’s included.  Most of us average folk don’t realize that all dementia is not Alzheimer’s.  In fact, I would venture to say that the regular layman isn’t quite sure what the difference between Alzheimer’s and Dementia is.  Don’t fret – I’ll explain it here!

Learning the difference between the varying levels of memory loss can be crucial to know the do’s and don’ts of dealing with behavior challenges. It will also come into play with understanding the levels of care that are available to fit your loved one’s needs, so they can live more comfortably.

In this blog we will discuss the Top 4 most common types of Dementia. The good news for you is that at The Kensington, we are very experienced with these areas of Memory Care and more. We welcome everyone!

  1. Alzheimer’s Disease.  This is the most common type of dementia. I like to describe Alzheimer’s as a slow process of going backwards in time. While it begins with short term memory loss (and thus, repeating oneself- because the person doesn’t remember what has just happened or what they’ve just said), the person essentially goes back to earlier days, because the days of the present are no longer remembered. Long term memory remains strong while short term memory evaporates. This explains why someone ‘doesn’t recognize’ their spouse, for example. If the resident feels and believes that they are now 50 years old instead of 90, and a gray haired gentleman tells her that he is her husband, she may reject the idea vehemently. People with Alzheimer’s demonstrate trouble with thinking and reasoning, and may have little or no orientation to time. They live in the present- emotionally- and may do things that make no sense at all. The process of Alzheimer’s has been divided into 7 stages which begin with simple confusion and in later stages the person has lost significant abilities (to swallow, for example) and full time care is needed.

  2. Lewy Body Dementia (or Dementia with Lewy Bodies).  Lewy Body Dementia is another very common, yet frequently misdiagnosed, or undiagnosed type of dementia. A simplified explanation for what LBD looks like is that it is described as a combination of Parkinson’s symptoms with Alzheimer’s symptoms. The stiffness or rigidity typically associated with Parkinson’s combines with the cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer’s. In addition to these outward traits, one of the primary identifying factors of LBD is visual hallucinations. The hallucinations typically are of smaller people (children) or animals, and are not upsetting to the person with LBD. Problems with sleep patterns – waking throughout the night or the acting out of dreams are other identifying factors. People with Lewy Body also experience fluctuating cognition- meaning that they can have moments or periods of clarity, and make complete sense- followed by other times of confusion and nonsensical thinking. Lewy Body Dementia causes its victims to be extremely sensitive to anti-psychotic medications which can typically help those with either Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. These medications can create potentially fatal conditions for those with LBD.

  3. Vascular Dementia.  This type of dementia- which is sometimes called “Post Stroke Dementia” is quite different from Alzheimer’s or Lewy Body Dementia. Vascular Dementia is actually brain damage traced to cardiovascular problems, or mini-strokes that caused bleeding or harm in the brain. The most outstanding symptoms that identify Vascular Dementia are when drastic changes occur immediately following a stroke. Changes can be in personality, thinking or reasoning- all depending on the area of the brain that has been affected. Trouble with paying attention, organizing thoughts, or analyzing situations can all be symptoms of Vascular Dementia. So simply put, Vascular Dementia presents itself mostly through cognitive changes, which are the result of brain damage. The use of medications has been shown to prevent or slow further brain damage, therefore control the progress of Vascular Dementia.

  4. Fronto Temporal Dementia.  FTD occurs when there is deterioration to the Frontal and Temporal Lobes of the brain. The person experiences problems with language, and significant changes in their personality and behavior. Where the Temporal lobe affects how one behaves or reacts in the world, based on outward input- the Frontal lobe has to do with cognitive and emotional processes, and voluntary movement. The executive functions of the brain including planning, judging, or analyzing are all housed in the Frontal lobe. When someone has FTD, they slowly withdraw into themselves. Initially they may lose inhibitions, and behavior and actions can be shocking. As the disease progresses, they tend to lose interest in others around them, and their surroundings. Their emotions become empty- there is a lack of sadness, or depression, and little to no awareness of the needs of others. Verbal and communication skills are predominantly weak and decrease significantly over time.

Yes, there are many, many more types of dementia that are known. There is dementia resulting from years of alcohol misuse. There is dementia associated with Parkinson’s Disease. There is dementia that is a result of a traumatic brain injury. All in all, there are over 100 types of dementia being treated and researched today. An accurate diagnosis is critical to the treatment of someone with dementia, for obvious reasons.

While cures for dementia continue to elude the medical world, that doesn’t prohibit us from learning about different dementias, and adapting our ways of thinking 

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