Beyond Alzheimer’s: 10 Types of Dementia

senior loved one with dementia 03/02/2015

People often think dementia and Alzheimer’s are one and the same.  They are not.  Dementia is the broad category for health conditions that cause memory loss or impair an individual’s cognitive abilities to the degree that daily life is affected.  Each type of dementia has its own unique symptoms and struggles.  Some types of dementia have a more profound impact on a person’s ability to maintain their independence and health.

10 Most Common Types of Dementia

There are a variety of diseases that are considered to be a form of dementia. Some are better known than others.  The most common types of dementia include:

1.     Alzheimer’s Disease: Alzheimer’s accounts for 60 to 80% of all cases of dementia. It is by far the most common type of dementia. While researchers haven’t been successful in determining a cause or a treatment, there are a few medications that may help slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease or manage some of the more common symptoms.

2.     Parkinson’s Dementia: Adults in more advanced stages of Parkinson’s often develop dementia that leads to memory loss and poor judgment. This form of dementia is one that senior living providers are increasingly familiar with. Because the disease often strikes younger people, a spouse may be unable to juggle the demands of caring for their loved one while working and raising young children. They turn to senior care providers for help.

3.     Vascular Dementia: Next to Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia is the most common type of memory loss. Most often it is the result of a stroke, diabetes or from advanced heart disease. As the obesity rates in this country continue to rise, so too do the rates of stroke and heart disease that contribute to vascular dementia.

4.     Lewy-Body Disease (LBD): Dementia with Lewy Body is the result of protein deposits that build up on nerve cells in the brain stem. They cause problems with cognition, muscle rigidity, behavioral issues and tremors. At present, there are no treatments for Lewy Body disease.

5.     Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS): This dementia is caused by a vitamin B thiamine deficiency. If caught early enough, WKS can be treated with thiamine replacement therapy. Alcoholics, advanced cancer patients, long-term dialysis patients and people with malnutrition are the most common patients. Symptoms include short-term memory loss, confusion and hallucinations.

6.     Huntington’s Disease: This progressive form of dementia is the result of a gene defect that runs in families. Huntington’s causes mood swings, impaired judgment, speech problems and depression. While there is no cure for the disease, there are some medications that may help improve the movement disorders and psychiatric problems it creates.

7.     Frontotemporal Dementia: Forms of this dementia impair the front and side sections of the brain fall under this category.  Pick’s disease is the most common type.  The damage from Frontotemporal forms of dementia results in memory loss and speech problems.  It also causes a loss of inhibition that often leads to behavioral challenges that are difficult for caregivers to safely manage.

8.     Creutzfeldt-Jacob Dementia (CJD): Also known as mad cow disease, CJD is a very rare degenerative neurological disorder.  It is a fast moving form of dementia that causes a loss of coordination, muscle twitches, impaired speech, memory loss and confusion.

9.     Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus (NPH): This type of dementia occurs when cerebrospinal fluid builds up in the brain’s cavities.  The resulting pressure on the brain interrupts functional abilities such as walking, talking, bladder control, and cognition.  NPH is one of the few forms of dementia that may be able to be treated.  A long, thin tube called a shunt is inserted between the brain and the abdomen.  It helps with drainage.  While the shunt may improve mobility, it doesn’t help with memory loss or bladder problems.

10.    Mixed Dementia: Finally, we come to mixed dementia.  It is actually a combination of several forms of dementia.  Many experts believe that the majority of people who have dementia actually have mixed dementia.  The most common combination is Alzheimer’s disease and vascular  dementia.

While most types of dementia have few real treatment options, there are many clinical trials taking place across the country.  If you or a senior loved one has been diagnosed with some form of dementia, you might consider participating in one.  Trial Match from the national Alzheimer’s Association can help you locate one near you.